Akari Unfolded
Exhibitions and Museums

Within the heart of Queen in New York, The Noguchi Museum presented the Akari Unfolded exhibition from February 28th, 2018 to April 14th, 2019. This event was created together by Dakin Hart, the museum curator, and Valérie Maltaverne from YMER&MALTA studio, and was designed as a luminous tribute to the artist and designer Isamu Noguchi.

From left to right : Poise (table lamp and pendant), edaLight (table lamp), Light Fragments (light sculptures), Belle de Jour (floor lamp), Belle de Nuit (table lamps) and Belle de Jour (nomad lamp and sconce)
In 2016, the parallel was suddenly put into light. During a visit at The Noguchi Museum, Dakin Hart and Valérie Maltaverne noticed the similarities in the approach, linking the Japanese artist and the head of the French studio.

Isamu Noguchi (1904 – 1988) loved the skills and materials of his native archipelago so much, that he literally shook them up in order not to see them disappear. In the 1950s, his Akari collection was meant to protect an ancestral and delicate tradition, common and fragile, from the electric threat. Japanese lanterns, made of bamboo and washi paper, held shadows at a fair distance from light, in a fragile balance, and the flame at a fair distance from the paper. Just one wobbling in the atmosphere could dangerously threaten this nocturnal expression of akari, natural light. It only took for Noguchi to adapt to electricity the chochin, formerly lit by candles, in order for the poetic simplicity to conquer a world which was grasping both for discoveries and modern comfort.

Nowadays, YMER&MALTA studio does not process differently. By taking the paths of craft as well as the path of industry, Valérie Maltaverne manages to create an alchemy bringing French savoir-faire into fields which were either unknown or intimidating until now. The parallel between Noguchi’s techniques and the studio’s ones could well also be shaped as a mise en abîme.

For two years, Noguchi’s work would become the traditional craft of reference which YMER&MALTA intended to reinterpret, with its own methods and ideas.
When, in 2016, the curator and the head of the studio agreed on a set of five pieces, inspired by Noguchi’s art, the unfolded work of the Japanese artist was about to demand more from the set limits.

Isamu Noguchi and the Akari light sculptures
Valérie Maltaverne and the Galet light sculptures

Isamu Noguchi: sculpted light

Questioning sculpture is questioning matter. However, Noguchi’s work foresees light as the very essence of matter, an oxymoron defying the hand as well as the spirit. Starting from this account, YMER&MALTA set about considering and thoroughly researching on shapes and materials able to embody light. The prototypes, maquettes and experimentations soon required five designers and more than twenty craftsmen, coordinated by Valérie Maltaverne. In the end, there were not only five lamps that were created, but twenty-six.

To reach an astute and respectful interpretation of Noguchi’s legacy, to create an encounter between French crafts and Japanese culture, YMER&MALTA pushed techniques and materials toward innovation. Metal, paper, flax, biscuit porcelain, plexiglas, resin and concrete, finally moulded new forms of expression, starting from an incomplete state to the perfect adaptation of a sketch, a volume or a given problem.

“Everything YMER&MALTA creates is the expression of its determination to synthesize ancient and new, innovating from each of the craft tradition it takes on.”
Dakin Hart, senior curator at The Noguchi Museum

edaLight (floor lamp, sconce and table lamp) and Galet (floor lamps)
Each facets of Isamu Noguchi seemed to need materialisation: the Galets as a tribute to his skills as a sculptor and landscaper, the ranges of Poise and edaLight such as the wide variety of chochin lanterns, or, as for Belle de Jour, the vegetal exploration of French flax, as a nod to the Japanese one, made of bamboo and mulberry bark.
Dakin Hart, Senior Curator, The Noguchi Museum
Light Fragments

“It is as if Noguchi had access to today’s materials and technologies.”
Dakin Hart, senior curator at The Noguchi Museum

Shaping a block of pure light, as the moon 月 does when it reflects sunlight 日, finally led to the material and abstract writing of the kanji forming the akari character 明.

Therefore, Light Fragments sculpts light, gliding from one of its emanations to another, from its blinding and solar brightness to the dimness if its lunar reflection. The luminescent black shaft draws a horizon line between dawn and dusk and reminds us of the base of washi paper lamps of the original collection by Noguchi.

The Akari Unfolded exhibition, initially planned for a year, actually lasted for a year and a half. The osmosis between Isamu Noguchi and YMER&MALTA, between the 20th and 21st centuries was expressed in the contemplative quietness of the museum, the exhibited pieces modulating their appearances along the changing light of the day.

The creation of the studio were acquired by the CNAP (National Centre of Art), as the recognition of the Japanese artist’s legacy and his influence on the contemporary designers who worked on this collection: Sébastien Bergne, Océane Delain, Benjamin Graindorge, nendo and Sylvain Rieu-Piquet.

Belle de Jour and Belle de Nuit