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Exhibit on Noguchi’s sets for Martha Graham opens at U of M

An exhibition opens today that dovetails with the Martha Graham Dance Company’s performance of a reconstructed “Clytemnestra” at Northrop this week (more on that later).

“Noguchi: The Sets for Martha Graham,” a panel-board synopsis of famed modern sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s benches, props and sculptural elements for the iconic choreographer’s work, is on display in the HGA Gallery in Rapson Hall at the University of Minnesota.

Jim Dozier, a professor in the College of Design’s architecture school, mounted the exhibition. According to Dozier, the college said yes to the show after Ben Johnson, Northrop’s director, contacted Tom Fisher, dean of the college, about the cross-disciplinary collaboration. The panels (the show does not include any actual Noguchi pieces, for security reasons) include images from “Clytemnestra,” as well as such Graham masterworks as “Frontier,” “El Penitente,” “Appalachian Spring” and “Night Journey.”

Both design and dance aficionados are well aware that Noguchi — with his stark, evocative, minimal sculptures — changed prior concepts of theatrical space and how dancers could move within it. In a book for a previous exhibition at the Noguchi Museum in New York (which provided the panels for the Rapson show), Noguchi is quoted:

“I did the first set for Martha Graham in 1935, “Frontier.” … It had within it all the elements of space perception, of the volume of space, not just two-dimensional space but the three-dimensional space of the theater. My interest was to see how sculpture might be, in the hypothetical space of theater, a living part of human relationships. That was my particular interest and always remained so.”

For 30 years, in fact, Noguchi collaborated with Graham. The show, Dozier says, “demonstrates how design is bigger than architecture and landscape architecture.” It also brings to life a remarkable integration of dance and design that resonates with timeless intensity.

“Noguchi: The Sets for Martha Graham,” through Dec. 20. HGA Gallery, Rapson Hall, U of M, 89 Church Street SE, Minneapolis. Free.

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