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Isamu Noguchi, American, 1904 - 1988

Made in United States, North and Central America

1948 (cast in bronze 1982)


6 feet 6 1/2 inches × 33 inches × 23 inches (199.4 × 83.8 × 58.4 cm) Base: 24 3/4 × 26 3/8 inches (62.9 × 67 cm)

© The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum , New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curatorial Department:
American Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation, Inc., 2001

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Noguchi often found artistic sources in the mythologies of different cultures. Here, the title refers to one of the ten incarnations of the Hindu deity Vishnu, whose avatars (literally "descents") include the forms of a fish, tortoise, boar, and human-lion hybrid. Noguchi's creature possesses an ambiguous anatomy, but its powerful presence implies an underlying spirituality.

Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The son of the Japanese poet Yonejiro (Yone) Noguchi and the American writer Leonie Gilmour, Isamu Noguchi forged an aesthetic vision that reflected his dual heritage. His earliest sculptures were made under the tutelage of Constantin Brancusi, with whom the artist worked in the late 1920s in Paris. Noguchi achieved the poetic effects evident in these works through direct stone carving and the simplicity of their forms and structure. Although stone would remain his material of choice, the sculptor also worked in clay, paper, wood, and bronze. He became celebrated as a designer of rock garden landscapes, Akari lanterns, furniture, and stage sets (most notably for the pioneering modern dancer Martha Graham). In works such as this one, Noguchi solidified his reputation as a preeminent modern sculptor in New York in the 1940s. He combined the fragile, ephemeral, and sensuous qualities of Japanese art with intersecting abstract forms that shared a biomorphic vocabulary with the work of Joan Mir, Alexander Calder, and Jean (Hans) Arp.

    Noguchi often sought inspiration in the ritualistic objects, mythologies, and belief systems of non-Western cultures. Avatar, an anthropomorphic standing sculpture, refers to a descendant or earthly incarnation of a deity, oftentimes associated with the Hindu god Vishnu. Throughout the ages, avatars have taken on various forms in Indian folklore, including that of a fish, a tortoise, a boar, and a human-lion hybrid. Noguchi's spectral creature is anatomically ambiguous, half-real and half-imagined, a six-foot-tall tripod of interlocking bone shapes whose nexus suggests a head. The attenuated and flattened forms have a great refinement, like pebbles on the beach that have been worn smooth by the grinding motion of sea and sand. This sculpture was originally conceived in precariously thin slabs of pink Georgia marble in 1948. Noguchi returned to the piece later in life, casting it in bronze at an Italian foundry in 1982. It is the fourth in an edition of eight casts, and the first major work by Noguchi to enter the Museum's distinguished collection of twentieth-century sculpture. Michael Taylor, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 134.