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Noguchi Playscape at Piedmont Park

By on February 19, 2009
playscapes1
Noguchi playscape

Isamu Noguchi, Playscape, Piedmont Park

Public art is a tricky thing. The line between satisfying the general public and maintaining artistic integrity is difficult to successfully straddle. Isamu Noguchi‘s Playscape manages to do both with flying colors. The playground/sculptural landscape at Piedmont Park allows art to become useful in everyday life. Somewhat sadly, it is the only playground Noguchi ever created in the United States. In the 1930s, the New York Parks Commissioner and the WPA Federal Art Project rejected Noguchi’s plans; the United Nations headquarters followed suit in the 50s. Luckily for Atlanta, the High Museum sponsored Noguchi to create Playscape in Piedmont Park in 1975.

Noguchi playscape

Noguchi

In 1967, Jay Jacobs wrote in Art in America, “the public playground is suddenly in the midst of a renaissance as designers, sculptors, painters, and architects strive to create a new world of color, texture, and form for toddlers.” Noguchi’s Playscape, built eight years after the publication of Jacobs’ article, reflects this statement.

The playground uses all of the primary colors. They bounce off each other in various shapes—from a spiral slide, to a rectangular slide, to swings mounted from a giant triangle. The shapes and colors encourage children to interact with their environment. For this reason, Playscape is an educational haven for any preschooler.

In his 1949 essay, “Towards a Reintegration of the Arts,” Noguchi provides insight into his intentions with Playscape:

“In the creation and existence of a piece of sculpture, individual possession has less significance than public enjoyment. Without this purpose, the very meaning of sculpture is in question. By sculpture we mean those plastic and spatial relationships which define a moment of personal existence and illume the environment of our aspirations … therefore that the function of sculpture … is more than merely the decoration of architecture, or the treasure of museums. Both of these outlets, worthy though they may be, are an extension in kind of private ownership…. In the technological order alive today, another channel must be opened for sculpture, if that art is to fulfill its larger purpose.”

Noguchi playscape

Noguchi

Noguchi further explains that his idea of reintegrating the arts into society is necessary to expand the limited versions of the current definitions of architect, painter, sculptor, and landscape architect. It seems to me that Noguchi’s hope for the arts was exactly what modern public art required in order to be accepted by the public. Artworks that do not interact with their surrounding spaces are considered to be less successful, or even to have failed. In this way, the time of the monument has ended.

Noguchi’s dedication to making a space that is intended to be used and enjoyed by the public is one of the reasons Playscape remains one of Atlanta’s most successful works of public art to date.

The playground is currently being restored by the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs to alleviate the weather damage and to integrate the safety modifications needed since its construction was completed in 1976. The Noguchi Playscape is located between the 12th and 14th Street entrances to Piedmont Park.


6 Comments

  1. Eddie Granderson

    February 19, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Have you visited the Noguchi Playscapes in the last three months, if not, please do so. The Playscapes as you mentioned is being renovated by the City of Atlanta. We here at the Office of Cultural Affairs are managing the renovation efforts and have hired the professional Conservation group, Williams Art Conservation to lead this effort. This is a $300K commitment that the city has invested in art of this great city. I think that his effort should have been the focus of your article instead of the brief mention . I hope that there will be a follow-up so that the citizens know how much the city treasures this cultural icon.

    Eddie M. Granderson
    Public Art Program Manager
    City of Atlanta, Office of Cultural Affairs
    Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

  2. Susannah Darrow

    February 20, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    That is a great point and is something that I would certainly be interested in doing. I think that the Playscape is certainly something that merits more than one article. This was one clearly more of an introdcution about the piece generally, but because the Public Art column is a regular topic on our roster now that is definitely something to be discussed.

  3. Elizabeth

    February 20, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I played in this park when I was a kid. It was super fun plus every time we went (all the time) one of my parents would point out that it was designed by a very important artist. It was great to run around and have fun and also know I was participating in something “very important”. There were see-saws then too and a higher slide. It felt a little dangerous – EVEN BETTER. Thanks for the article. Glad to know Atlanta is fixing it up. You should find an art-Atlanta-old-timer and learn more of what was funded in the ’60s and ’70s. Lots of things happened then.

  4. Jeremy

    February 20, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Yes, we should!

  5. ktauches

    February 23, 2009 at 11:22 am

    I’m so glad you covered this somewhat underappreciated public art jewel.

    another great public playscape–less designerly and more vernacular– is the cast cement, climb-able sculptures in the Cabbagetown Park. . .this art is the only remnant left from a disappeared elementary school. I’m so grateful that it was preserved. funny enough, just a few yards away is a brand new playground. . .and, sadly, it’s rather unartistic and suburban. . .

    k.tauches

  6. Pingback: Public Art goes Pitter Patter | Glasstire

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