Isamu Noguchi sculpture starring in Wright’s Design Masterworks sale May 25

Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi, ‘Magamata,’ 1946, onyx, 3.5in high x 5.25in wide x 5in deep (9 x 13 x 13 cm). Estimate: $300,000–$500,000. Wright image


CHICAGO – Isamu Noguchi’s Magatama, a sublime onyx sculpture with a star-studded pedigree, is among the select offerings in Wright’s Design Masterworks auction on Thursday, May 25. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.

Magatama by Isamu Noguchi has a commanding presence and an illustrious Hollywood history. The work was a gift from the artist to John Huston, director of numerous films including The Maltese Falcon and his wife, Evelyn Keyes, the actress best known for her role as Suellen O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Since then the piece has been witness to tales of love and heartache, in true Hollywood fashion.

John Huston and Evelyn Keyes, avid art collectors, were gifted Magatama when they visited Noguchi in his studio while honeymooning on the East Coast in 1946. When the couple divorced amicably in 1950, they divided their collection of art by coin toss, winner takes all. Huston lost and Keyes retained the Noguchi sculpture along with works by Picasso, Rufino Tamayo, Paul Klee and a large collection of pre-Columbian art.


Isamu Noguchi

John Huston and Evelyn Keyes with ‘Magatama’ by Isamu Noguchi. Wright image


A few years later, Keyes fell in love with film producer Mike Todd. Upon their engagement, Keyes gifted the Noguchi work to Todd only to have him return it six weeks later, when he broke their engagement to pursue a relationship with Elizabeth Taylor, whom he married in 1957. Tragically, Todd died a year later in a plane crash.

Evelyn Keyes married bandleader Artie Shaw in 1957. They separated in the 1970s but didn’t divorce until 1985. At some point, without Keyes consent, Shaw sold off the majority of her art collection. Fortunately, the Noguchi avoided sale.

Magatama remained in the collection of Keyes until her death in 2008 when it was bequeathed to film producer Allan Glaser and his partner, Hollywood golden boy Tab Hunter.

The abstract work reveals a confluence of Asian and Western culture, ancient and modern art and ultimately conveys a sense of timelessness, a hallmark of Noguchi’s art. The title, Magatama, is a reference to curved beads made of stone, earthenware or jade and worn as jewelry or used as ceremonial objects in prehistoric Japan, while the surrealist, biomorphic shape relates to the work of his contemporaries such as Jean Arp or Henry Moore.

This exceptional work not only embodies a luminous history but it is a perfect expression of Noguchi’s work.

Magatama will be sold at auction on May 25 in Wright’s Design Masterworks sale. The sculpture will be exhibited in Wright’s New York gallery located at 980 Madison Ave., third floor, through May 25, 10 a.m.—5 p.m. Monday through Friday.