Isamu Noguchi

Humpty Dumpty

Not on view



Ribbon slate

Overall: 59 × 20 3/4 × 17 1/2in. (149.9 × 52.7 × 44.5 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase

Rights and reproductions
© The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


In the mid-1940s, Isamu Noguchi began producing some of his most original works, comprised of interlocking, rounded forms in materials such as wood and gray slate. Humpty Dumpty, an emblematic work from this period, was carefully constructed so that its nine parts would fit together and stay in place without glue or screws. As Noguchi explained, “everything I do has an element of engineering in it—particularly since I dislike gluing parts together or taking advantage of something that is not inherent in the material. I am leery of welding or pasting. It implies taking an unfair advantage of nature.” The title Humpty Dumpty playfully acknowledges the work’s precarious construction, while the roundness of the forms evokes the famously plump character of the children’s rhyme. At the same time, this seemingly whimsical work may carry more ominous undertones. Produced shortly after the atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the sculpture’s title and composition suggest the unstable state of the world after World War II.