Art, Astoria, Museums and Galleries
Mar 08, 2018

Get To Know the Iconic Akari at The Noguchi Museum

Akari: “among the most ubiquitous sculptures on Earth.”

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Photo credit: THOR, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.

Akari are everywhere.

Akari is one of Isamu Noguchi’s most well-known creations. You’ve no doubt seen them, these lightweight, collapsible paper lanterns often built as spheres, though they also take the form of pyramids, cubes, and other 3D shapes. Right now The Noguchi Museum has two entire exhibits on the second floor dedicated to the Akari—the primary exhibit is Akari: Sculpture by Other Means with the companion exhibit Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA. They both run until Sunday, January 27, 2019.


Photo credit: The Noguchi Museum

The Noguchi Museum Acting Director Jennifer Lorch states, “Noguchi’s Akari are among his most iconic and celebrated works, and they are still in production today. This exhibition will explore them through historic and innovative installations, complemented by a trove of archival materials that document the exhibition and promotion of the lanterns from the early 1950s on.”

Here is the Akari origin story:

“Their origins lie in 1951 when, on a trip to a still devastated post-war Japan, Noguchi was asked by the mayor of the small town of Gifu City to help revitalize the local lantern industry by creating a modern lamp for export using the traditional washi paper (made by hand from the inner bark of the mulberry tree) and bamboo. Inspired by the lanterns that illuminated night fishing on the Nagara River, Noguchi worked with local firm Ozeki & Co. to combine the elements of the traditional paper lantern with electricity. He designed a dizzying array of new forms—creating contemporary art by marrying ancient craft with the defining technology of the twentieth-century. He would go on to create more than 200 models of Akari, including an entire line for his exhibition for the American Pavilion at the 1986 Venice Biennale, in the process receiving five American and thirty-one Japanese patents.”


Photo credit: The Noguchi Museum

In Sculpture by Other Means, some of his more noteworthy Akari works are featured. That includes (most copy written by museum staff):

  • A floor-to-ceiling Akari “cloud” made from different sized round ceiling lamps.
  • Three Akari virtual rooms: the first one is the Akari (PL1), a ceiling fixture four feet on a side and eight feet high made of washi paper panels draped over a steel hanging bar.
  • In the second room you’ll find an eight-foot cube made of thirteen Akari (PL2) panels affixed to a post-and-lintel frame that you can enter. PL2 is a modular panel system sold in any arrangement of two foot by two foot squares that can be backlit in any manner desired and used on the wall or ceiling.
  • In the the third virtual room is the legendary Akari (200D), a two-meter diameter globe Noguchi made for his 1986 Venice Biennale exhibition (titled, tellingly, Isamu Noguchi: What is Sculpture?). Designed in 1985, the 200D is the largest Akari that Noguchi ever created. It will be displayed here as it was at the Biennale, in a large wood-frame box, based on a Japanese display niche, that Noguchi made for that exhibition.

You’ll also get to view archival material—vintage photographs, advertisements, Akari brochures, and documentation of the many Akari exhibitions from 1952-1985, such as the home-furnishings marketplace, galleries, and at the aforementioned 1986 Venice Biennale.


Photo credit: The Noguchi Museum

The companion exhibit, Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER & MALTA, presents 26 lamps created by this French design studio. They made their reputation “working with contemporary designers and France’s legendary craft industries to transform traditional materials and techniques for use in the creation of objects that are both of the moment and steeped in savoir faire.” Valérie Maltaverne, founder and Artistic Director of YMER&MALTA, notes, “The idea of creating a collection of lamps inspired by Noguchi’s Akari lanterns came to me during a visit to The Noguchi Museum in 2016, and has been nourished by my years-long love for Akari. This project has enabled our studio to reach outside traditional French craft for the first time, and to invent a new language for a new medium: light. Each of the resulting designs possesses its own singular architecture and, we hope, will, like Akari, transform any space into a home.”

On this Saturday, March 10 from 10-11:30am there will be a members-only breakfast reception and tour of Akari and Akari Unfolded. This is a great way to get to know these exhibits and the world of Akari in a more intimate setting. To RSVP or become a member and join the event, contact Patrick McIntyre: or 718-204-7088 ext 238.


Photo credit: The Noguchi Museum

It’s easy to become a member, and if you live within zip codes 11101–11106, 11109, & 10044, your membership is only $50 (down from $80 for the regular Individual rate). If you meet this criterion, take advantage of it! You can find additional membership rates here.

We hope you will make a point to stop in at The Noguchi Museum to see this exhibit of the iconic Akari sculpture/lamp. See you there!

Akari: Sculpture by Other Means
Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA
Exhibits run until Sunday, January 27, 2019
Admission and hours vary—more information
The Noguchi Museum, 9-01 33rd Road, Astoria | Instagram | Facebook

About Meg Cotner

Meg Cotner was trained as a harpsichordist and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Queens," and is a skilled and avid home cook, baker, and preserver.

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