When Isamu Noguchi arrived in Peking for the first time in June 1930 he declared "Peking is like Paris." In China Noguchi was continuing his journey to being a World Citizen and influential Modernist artist. Previously, in New York, Paris and London, Noguchi had learned to appreciate "the value of the moment," but also became interested in Asian art forms and styles. As a committed Modernist he explicitly rejected the ideology of Realism and in doing so he sought to make use of the artistic styles of ancient traditions. In China he was to study under Qi Baishi, the classical water colorist, calligrapher and woodcutter.
However, Noguchi's sojourn in Peking came at a time of intense political upheaval in the former Chinese capital. On the eve of the Japanese annexation of Manchuria, Peking was in thrall to rampant warlordism. It was a city on the edge- both in terms of its proximity to Japanese incursions in the north, and rising fears among the city's population for their future political stability. Peking was a place of vast contrasts- both ancient and modern, imperial and republican, a centre of classical Chinese culture as well as home to an international expatriate group of aesthetes, Modernists and avant-gardists. While Noguchi's time with Qi Baishi is the focus of this exhibition, the influence of Peking itself, his exposure to its intellectuals and sojourners from Europe, America and Japan was highly influential on his emergent Modernist outlook and later work.
In this presentation writer and historian Paul French (author of Midnight in Peking and The Badlands: Decadent Playground of Old Peking) seeks to explain Peking in 1930, the city itself, the people who inhabited it and their joint effect on Isamu Noguchi and his work.