Notes on a Noguchi Table

unique dining table by Isamu Noguchi for Mr. & Mrs. Milton Greene, 1948/49. Photo by Wright

Isamu Noguchi created this dining table for the fashion photographer Milton Greene in 1948/49. Crafted in Noguchi’s three signature materials of stone, wood and metal; it is an uncompromising expression of art and design. Noguchi created only a handful of custom tables. This example was largely unknown despite the extensive period documentation captured by Greene. Indeed, the table was not published until a 2009 article in Casa Vogue. Milton Greene’s photo archive is well cared for by his son and we now have the complete image trail from the preparatory drawings done at the house through the final install including formal portraits of Noguchi at his McDougal Alley studio.

Marilyn Monroe had dinner and drinks around this table. Fashion models posed on its marble top. In 1962 it was offered to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was sold shortly thereafter and lived in obscurity hosting family meals for more than 50 years. Now it will be celebrated, put on display and offered at auction as it begins its next chapter.

Isamu Noguchi (center) with Evelyn Franklin (right) in the Greene’s newly acquired home, 1948. Photographed by Milton H. Greene ©2018 Joshua Greene • archiveimages.com | © 2018 The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The table grew out friendship between Noguchi, Milton Greene, and his first wife, Evelyn Franklin. In 1948, Noguchi created a sculptural sofa, ottoman and this dining table for the couple. 1948 marks the heady beginning of the post-war era when American art, design and culture would rise to greatness. A moment when artists, stars and fashion mixed before money had yet to define the art world. Three years earlier Noguchi had chosen to be interned with other Japanese-Americans during the war, but now he was in the midst of his most fertile period of creation.

Elements of the table echo his famous interlocking sculptures. The delicate-hued pink marble is the same stone used in his masterpiece, Kouros, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The shape of the stone relates to the forms he developed for the Dymaxion car developed with Buckminster Fuller in 1933. Each of the three wooden legs is hand-carved in a different shape. Two are in opposing curves, one terminating in a ball foot similar to the one he would use in the dining table for William Burden in 1949 (later lost in a fire). Even the metal insert speaks to Noguchi’s creativity, repurposing an off-the-shelf aluminum bowl and carefully soldering copper flanges to the sides creating a sculptural form within a form.

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymazion car on a test drive, 1934

Shortly after the Noguchi pieces arrived, Milton and Evelyn divorced. She would go on to marry Richard Avedon two years later and Greene remarried in 1953. At some point the Greenes decided to dispose of the Noguchi pieces. There is a note between curators in the MoMA archives dated 1962 indicating that a Ms. Milton Greene called regarding a Noguchi table. There is no other information but clearly the piece was not acquired at that time. Instead it was sold to an acquaintance and assumed a place of pride in the home of this young family. Three children were to grow up dining around this table each night, as it quietly fulfilled its function.

Actress Maggie McNamara on the table by Isamu Noguchi. The photo was on the cover of Casa Vogue in 2009. Photographed by Milton H. Greene ©2018 Joshua Greene • archiveimages.com | © 2018 The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Last November we were contacted about this table. I didn’t actually know what a marble top Noguchi dining table was but I sure wanted to find out. Michael Jefferson did know and had the magazine with the table on its cover at the ready. During a snowstorm in January, Michael, Megan Whippen and I traveled to finally see the table in person. The scale and beauty struck me right away. We sat around the table and shared a cup of coffee, casually using this piece of history, all the time worrying that I would leave a ring. It was to be another month of worry and stress before we were able to secure the right to offer this rare piece at auction.

Now is the moment of celebration, to enjoy the best of our work, preserving and presenting history. We will enjoy this table until June 7th when the next owner will take over the responsibility as the caretaker of this rare treasure.

unique dining table by Isamu Noguchi for Mr. & Mrs. Milton Greene, 1948/49. Photo by Wright