A vintage Akari Light Sculpture—Model UF1-O in red, black, and white—designed by Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi for OZEKI & CO. of Gifu, Japan. The family-run OZEKI workshop has been producing Akari paper lanterns by hand ever since Noguchi first created them there in 1951. A harmonious meeting of Japanese artisanship and modernist form, Akari Light Sculptures are crafted from handmade washi paper and bamboo ribbing and supported by a wire frame. The UF models, first produced in the 1980s, feature longer legs than earlier lamps and a central plate to house the socket—modifications that were made to support larger lanterns. Surely one of the most insectile of Akari forms!

Marked at the base with Noguchi’s signature and the iconic sun-and-moon ideogram in red. Akari is a Japanese word meaning ‘light’—with associations of both illumination and relative weightlessness.

ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904–1988) was born in Los Angeles in 1904, the son of itinerant Japanese poet Yone Noguchi and New York City writer Léonie Gilmour, Yone’s sometime editor. Gilmour moved to Japan with her son when he was two, and they lived there for eleven years. He was sent to the Interlaken School, a progressive boarding school for boys in La Porte, Indiana, for a secondary education in 1918. (He proudly identified as a “Hoosier” for the rest of his life). In 1922, he began a brief apprenticeship in Connecticut with Gutzon Borglum (1867–1941), best known as the sculptor of Mount Rushmore. Noguchi enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia University the following year while he took evening classes with sculptor and poet Onorio Ruotolo (1888–1966) at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in New York City’s East Village. In 1925 he finally committed fully to becoming an artist and left Columbia.

A John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship allowed Noguchi to move to Paris in 1927, where he worked as a studio assistant for the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși (1876–1957). Inspired by Brâncuși’s forms and philosophy, Noguchi embraced modernism and abstraction and began to infuse his highly finished pieces with lyrical and emotional expressiveness. In Paris, he befriended the sculptor Alexander Calder (1898–1976) and the painters Stuart Davis (1892–1964) and Jules Pascin (1885–1930). Returning to New York in 1929, he presented abstract sculpture in a one-man show at the Eugene Schoen Gallery.

During the early 1930s, Noguchi associated with key figures of New York City’s nascent modernist art scene: the painters Arshile Gorky (1904–1948), John Graham (1886–1961), and Moses (1899–1974) and Raphael Soyer (1899–1987) and the sculptor Chaim Gross (1902–1991). The Whitney acquired the first sculpture of Noguchi’s to enter a museum collection, a bronze portrait bust of a waitress, Ruth Parks (1929). He began to incorporate themes of social realism into his work, and he expanded his creative endeavors to include furniture, a playground—in collaboration with architect Louis Kahn (1901–1974)—and theater décor—including sets for choreographer Martha Graham. During WWII, Noguchi demonstrated political solidarity with his fellow Japanese-Americans by voluntarily residing for seven months in the Poston Internment Camp in southwestern Arizona. In 1949, he held his first solo New York exhibition since 1935 at the Charles Egan Gallery. In the very early ’50s, he planned gardens, bridges, and monuments in Japan. His work was showcased at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1954 and again in 1959.

An internationalist at heart, Noguchi traveled extensively throughout his lifetime, largely financing his wanderings with proceeds from commissioned portrait sculptures. The impact of large-scale public works in Mexico, the earthy ceramics and tranquil gardens of Japan, subtle ink-brush techniques in China, and the purity of marble in Italy—all left impressions that were incorporated into his work. Noguchi utilized a wide range of materials, including stainless steel, marble, cast iron, balsa wood, sheet aluminum, granite, and (in his fountains) water. In his final years, he would maintain studios in both New York City and the village of Mure on the Japanese island of Shikoku.

Noguchi was always eager to embrace opportunities for the mass production of his designs. In 1937, he created a Bakelite intercom for Zenith Radio Corporation, and in 1947, his iconic glass-topped table was manufactured by Herman Miller. Many pieces, including some of the Akari Light Sculptures developed in 1951, remain in production today.

Noguchi’s first solo Paris show was held at the Galerie Claude Bernard in 1964. The Whitney Museum in NYC honored him with a major retrospective in 1968. Throughout the 1970s, Noguchi continued to produce large outdoor sculptures and fountains. A comprehensive review of his work was staged at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1978.

Simultaneously subtle and bold, traditional and modern, Noguchi set a new standard for the reintegration of the arts into modern life. He received the Edward MacDowell Medal for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to the Arts in 1982; the Kyoto Prize in Arts in 1986; the National Medal of Arts in 1987; and, in 1988, the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Japanese government. He died in New York City that year.

Everything is sculpture. – ISAMU NOGUCHI

AKARI LIGHT SCULPTURES are produced by OZEKI & CO. in the town of Gifu in central Japan. The history of Gifu paper lanterns—or chōchin—stretches back to the late 16th century. Traditionally illuminated with candles and used during Japanese rituals and festivities, as well as for decorating restaurants and shops, the inputs for their production, locally sourced bamboo and washi paper, have long been available in Gifu. OZEKI was founded in 1868 as a dealer of household goods, including paper lanterns, and began to get involved in their manufacture in 1891. OZEKI remains one of the industry’s last survivors.

The finest chōchin are handmade utilizing high-quality washi paper produced from the inner bark of the paper mulberry. Gifu was once the major producer of chōchin in Japan, but it lost major market share when cheaper production methods became widespread. So when Gifu’s mayor was introduced to artist Isamu Noguchi in 1951, he pleaded with him to help revitalize his city’s chōchin industry (while offering him a commission).

Noguchi came up with ideas for prototypes overnight. A local newspaper described them as “deformed” following their debut. Besides challenging the shape norms of the lanterns, Noguchi decided to substitute a lightbulb for the traditional candle, and the whole object was instantly modernized. Shortly after, Noguchi formed a partnership with OZEKI.

Christened AKARI, the “light sculptures” are masterpieces of modern lighting design. Part of MoMA’s permanent collection, AKARI lamps were introduced for sale in 1970 at Bloomingdale’s department store in Manhattan.



Design Period/Year – 1950s

Maker – OZEKI & CO.

Production Period/Year – 1980s

Origin – JAPAN






Condition – Excellent vintage condition. Minor traces of wear consistent with age and use.

Dimensions – 11" W × 11" D × 20" H

Quantity Available – 1