More than a decade before humans traveled beyond Earth’s atmosphere, Isamu Noguchi imagined civilization transplanted to Mars, gazing back at an abandoned Earth. Such unprecedented destruction marked a disturbing new chapter in human development. The end of life on Earth seemed likely, even inevitable, after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. To commemorate humankind’s former home, Noguchi proposed a land art project, Memorial to Man, in 1947. In its schematized human face, its large scale, and the use of earth as its material, the project recalls such ancient land drawings as the Nasca lines of Peru – made 1,500 to 2000 years ago – thereby emphasizing civilization’s enduring history.
Isamu Noguchi worked in a variety of media, including sculpture, ceramics, architecture, garden and theater design, lighting, and furniture-making. He found inspiration in both Japanese techniques and American modernity, and collaborated with many artists, including choreographer Martha Graham (1894–1991) and composer John Cage (1912–1992). As the son of Japanese writer Yonejirō Noguchi (1875–1947) and American writer Léonie Gilmour (1873–1933), Noguchi often traveled between Japan and the United States. He worked as an intern for the monumental sculptor Gutzon Borglum (1867–1941) in 1922, and after taking sculpture classes he abandoned his premedical studies at Columbia University in 1924 to pursue art. Noguchi received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1927 and assisted in the studio of Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957) in Paris for two years. His own first sculpture commission was News (1938), symbolizing freedom of the press for the Associated Press building at New York’s Rockefeller Center. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the backlash against Japanese Americans caused his work to become more politicized and he requested placement in an internment camp in Arizona. Noguchi received many important prizes for his work; he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1986.