A famed Isamu Noguchi sculpture in New York has been removed because of a real-estate developer’s plan to remodel the Midtown building in which it is sited, the artist’s foundation and museum said on Friday. The move is one that changes the nature of Ceiling and Waterfall for the Lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue (1957), an artwork that ranks among the most beloved public sculptures of its kind in New York.
News that the work would be potentially disassembled and removed from the building’s lobby was first announced in February. On Friday, the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum issued a statement saying that, after the work was documented, deinstalled, and catalogued in October and November, components of the artwork have been donated the museum by Brookfield Properties, the real-estate developer in charge of 666 Fifth Avenue’s remodeling project.
“As stewards of the artist’s legacy, the Museum advocated for the work to remain in the lobby in some form, even if that required some adaptation, and even though it had been compromised by renovations predating Brookfield’s ownership,” the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum said. “However, Brookfield Properties, as the owner of the building and the work, elected to exercise its right to remove it.”
In a statement, a representative for Brookfield Properties said, “Unfortunately, the work we inherited was severely marginalized prior to our ownership of the building when the lobby was reconstructed decades ago, rendering Noguchi’s original vision unachievable.”
Like many of his other sculptures, the Noguchi work subtly considered the relationship between viewers and their environment. It featured a ceiling with rows of aluminum elements, some of which stretch down farther than others, as well as a wall lined with similar forms that punctuate a soothing flow of water.
In 1998, the work was nearly destroyed as part of a remodeling effort; the sculpture itself was spared, but the original marble floor around it, which the Noguchi Museum contended the artist did not design, was significantly changed. Previously, a representative for Brookfield Properties said that the work “no way reflects Noguchi’s original vision” because it had been modified as a result of prior renovations.
In February, the Noguchi Museum said it was working to save the site-specific Ceiling and Waterfall for the Lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue in some form. But those efforts were redirected as the work was deinstalled between October and November, the museum said. “The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum will now determine whether and how it might be possible to give Ceiling and Waterfall a new life in the public sphere,” the institution said.
The removal of the Noguchi sculpture comes as another work by the artist gets a prominent placement within the nation’s capital. In November, Noguchi’s Floor Frame (1962) was installed at the White House’s Rose Garden after being gifted by the White House Historical Association. That work is now the first by an Asian-American artist to enter the White House’s collection. In an essay for ARTnews, the association’s director, Stewart D. McLaughlin, said that the work represents “the beautiful multiplicity of cultures that make up the United States of America.”