The Noguchi Museum’s Amy Hau On Preserving the Artist’s Legacy and Building Her Own

During three decades working for Noguchi and then with the foundation and museum, Hau has played a pivotal role in sharing the artist's life and works with the wider world.

Last month, it was announced that Amy Hau would serve as the next director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, colloquially known as The Noguchi Museum, in Long Island City, Queens. The institution was established by and is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Japanese-American sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). Noguchi purchased the printing plant and gas station across from his home in 1974, and the museum on the site opened in 1985—the first institution of its kind established by a living artist in America.

A smiling woman in a black top standing in front of an artistic lamp
Amy Hau. Cindy Trinh

Observer caught up with Hau to hear about her plans for the museum, and her continued efforts to preserve the legacy of the artist, who gave Hau her first job.

The release announcing your appointment tasks you with “completing its capital campaign and fully developing the Museum campus, celebrating the institution’s 40th anniversary in 2025, and developing and implementing a new strategic vision.” That’s a lot! Which of these do you think is going to be the most challenging?

No matter how much we grow and change in programming and recognition, the biggest challenge will be to preserve the fundamental character and environment of the Museum, as Isamu envisioned it, as a place for contemplation and reflection. That is the most important.

The Museum’s audiences have grown tremendously in recent years, and national and international interest in Isamu’s art and design work has as well. I am interested in continuing to cultivate that growth and educate new audiences about the breadth and depth of his work and influence.

What’s your vision for the museum, what would you most like to improve about it?

The Museum’s 40th anniversary in 2025 will be a large focus of mine in the coming months. We want the anniversary to be an opportunity to celebrate Isamu’s New York with public programs around various sites around the city. The anniversary celebration will be a great opportunity for us to collaborate with arts organizations city-wide and local community groups.

Prior to your last job, you spent almost three decades working for the museum. How does that kind of institutional knowledge help you coming into this job?

During my nearly three decades of employment with Isamu and the Isamu Noguchi Foundation, followed by the 501(c)(3) Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum (our current organization), I played a role in the transformation of the institution, which started as a small group of Isamu’s closest associates and developed into an internationally recognized art museum. I’ve been involved in nearly every facet of our operations which gives me a great advantage in my new role.

A black and white photograph of three people: a man, a woman and a person with their face turned away from the camera
Amy Hau and Isamu Noguchi. Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum Archives

You began your career as Isamu Noguchi’s assistant in 1986. What was that like?

The first two years, as Isamu’s assistant, my focus was on the business side of his artistic practice, helping to organize his exhibitions, coordinate logistics for public projects and work closely with his business manager. In those early years, I started his photo archive. With his passing in 1988, my focus with the estate was to catalog his works and personal collection in New York, as well as his studios in Mure, Japan and Pietrasanta, Italy. Thereafter, my focus was the museum, working on capital projects to stabilize it and make it more accessible to the public, and later transitioning it into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

What’s something about Isamu Noguchi that might surprise people?

As I have been back at the Museum for the past few weeks, I have been astonished that people were not aware of Isamu’s long history with the neighborhood, since the early 1960s. While next year we will be celebrating the Museum’s 40th anniversary, he was actually here for a quarter of a century before.

Queens is the home to many amazing art institutions, boasting perhaps even more than Brooklyn. Why do you think that is?

When Isamu came to Long Island City in 1960, he was drawn to the industrial space and proximity to stone suppliers and metal workers. I know this was true of Mark di Suvero and others.

Social media seems to have driven major interest in interior design among younger generations. Is the museum seeing this reflected in attendance or otherwise looking to capitalize on it?

The museum has had steady, organic growth on social media. The popularity of Noguchi’s iconic Akari lamps and our Museum Shop have been a big factor in this. The interior design community often interacts with us over social media via Akari, and oftentimes this is a gateway for people to become more interested in the museum and Isamu’s work. We do communicate all of the museum’s news, exhibitions and events on social media and will continue to use it as a platform to reach a wider audience.

The Noguchi Museum’s Amy Hau On Preserving the Artist’s Legacy and Building Her Own