Site-specific Isamu Noguchi installation pulled from 660 Fifth Avenue lobby

Noguchi Has Left the Building

Site-specific Isamu Noguchi installation pulled from 660 Fifth Avenue lobby

Photo of Isamu Noguchi’s Ceiling for 666 Fifth Avenue (1957) as seen in its original state. (Alexandre Georges; © Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum/ARS)

As part of a dramatic top-to-bottom transformation underway at 660 Fifth Avenue (formerly 666 Fifth Avenue), the mid-century Midtown Manhattan skyscraper will be losing one of its signature interior features: A site-specific installation by Japanese-American artist, landscape architect, and political activist Isamu Noguchi titled Ceiling and Waterfall for the Lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue. News that the work could potentially be dissembled and relocated was first made public in February of this year.

Noguchi’s undulating, illuminated installation—comprised of a section of the lobby ceiling and a standalone wall that once incorporated a water feature—was an original feature of the landmark Carson & Lundin-designed high-rise, which opened to significant fanfare in 1957 and, in more recent years, has experienced more than a fair share of sensational real estate headlines. With the signing of a 99-year lease, Brookfield Properties took control of the property from the Kushner family in 2018 and announced plans for extensive renovations, including to the lobby, in October of the following year. AN published an update on the $400 million overhaul at 660 Fifth Avenue earlier this month, complete with new design renderings shared by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), which is heading the design of the multi-year renovation project. At the time, the status of Noguchi installation, also referred to as Landscape of the Cloud, was not publicly known.

As a statement released last Friday afternoon by the Long Island City, Queens-based Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum makes clear, the installation has indeed been removed as part of the renovation and is now, reassuringly, safely in the hands of the foundation, which is exploring ways in which it can be re-introduced into the public realm in a new location.

In a statement shared with AN, Brett Littman, director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, explained the removal process and what the future holds for the work:

“The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum announces the removal of the site-specific Ceiling and Waterfall for the Lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue (1957) by Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) from that building. Over the course of several weeks in October and November 2020, Ceiling and Waterfall for the Lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue was documented, deinstalled, and catalogued under the oversight of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum. Brookfield Properties, the owner of the building and the work, covered all associated costs and has donated the components of Noguchi’s installation to the Museum.

Since 2019 the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum and Brookfield Properties have been in discussions about Brookfield’s plans for the lobby and about what impact their planned renovations would have on Noguchi’s work. 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. However, Brookfield Properties, as the owner of the building and the work, elected to exercise its right to remove it.

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.”

While the decision to remove Noguchi’s work from the space it was specifically designed for is obviously not the ideal outcome, it does sound like the circumstances around the removal were favorable.

“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. We are pleased the Noguchi Foundation will explore if it might be restored in a suitable location that could accommodate that vision,” Andrew Brent, a spokesperson for Brookfield Properties, told AN in a statement.

Noguchi’s work also made headlines last month recently when it was announced that his 1962 bronze sculpture titled Floor Frame had been acquired by the White House Historical Association and subsequently installed on the east terrace of the White House Rose Garden under the direction of Melania Trump.