The White Gunas (Abstract Sculpture)
Isamu Noguchi (American, 1904-1988)
On View

Born in Los Angeles, Noguchi spent his childhood in Japan but made his career in Paris, serving as an apprentice to Brancusi, frequenting the Surrealists and forging his own path as both a sculptor and a designer. A fascination with Eastern philosophies informed many of his works, like this one, whose spare, abstract forms invite contemplative—even meditative—viewing. This five-part marble construction gives literal form to the spiritual ideal of balance suggested by its title. In the Indian Samkhya school of philosophy, the world and human experience comprise three qualities or gunas: tamas (inertia, darkness, sloth), rajas (dynamism, passion, pain), and sattva (poise, illumination, joy). Enlightenment is attained by holding these qualities in equilibrium.


  • Artist Name: Isamu Noguchi (American, 1904-1988)
  • Title: The White Gunas (Abstract Sculpture)
  • Date: 1946
  • Medium: White marble, 5 units
  • Dimensions: 65-1/2 x 25-1/2 x 15-1/2 in. (166.4 x 64.8 x 39.4 cm)
  • Credit Line: Norton Simon Museum, Museum purchase with funds donated by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Fellows Acquisition Fund
  • Accession Number: P.1974.4a-e
  • Copyright: © 2018 The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Reproduction, including downloading of ARS works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Object Information

Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, to;
Anonymous (Private Sale following Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 1 March 1972, lot 31, to);
Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, purchased with funds donated by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Fellows Acquisition Fund, 1974-1975;
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.

Modern Art in Your Life

  • Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), 1949 to 1949

Important 19th and 20th Century Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture

  • New York, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1973-04-27 to 1973-05-04

Beyond Brancusi: The Space of Sculpture

  • Norton Simon Museum, 2013-04-26 to 2014-01-06

Impossible Realities: Marcel Duchamp and the Surrealist Tradition

  • Norton Simon Museum, 1991-07-04 to 1992-03-08
  • Sotheby Parke Bernet, Highly Important Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Sculpture, 1972, no. 135
  • Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., Important 19th and 20th Century Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 1973,
  • The Isamu Noguchi Catalogue Raisonné, 2020, 250
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