David Huang on Designing the 2024 Noguchi Museum Artist Banners

By David Huang and Shannon Lee
May 16, 2024

Since 2021, The Noguchi Museum has celebrated AAPI Heritage Month by hosting an annual Open Call for AAPI artists in NYC to submit designs for the museum’s outdoor banners. This year’s theme, “labor and love,” was inspired by Isamu Noguchi’s steadfast interest in creating work for communal use in public spaces like playgrounds, gardens, and parks. “In art one does not work isolated from humanity,” said the artist in a 1979 interview with Paul Cummings.

A4’s Programs Director, Justine Lee, had the pleasure of participating as a guest juror for this year’s Open Call, which was awarded to the South Brooklyn-based artist and illustrator David Huang. Artists Jacqueline Qiu and Derek Zheng were selected as runner-ups.

Huang’s design, titled Hands Towards the Universe, offers a tactical interpretation of this year’s theme. “For me, the art of creation is a gift; it has helped me keep a heightened sensitivity toward my own emotions and gave me a child-like curiosity to the world around me,” said Huang. “In these six banner designs, I aim to spotlight the two-way journey of exploration—inward and outward.”

Huang’s designs will be installed on the museum’s outdoor banners through May 2025. Ahead of the opening reception for the banners on Wednesday, May 22nd, we spoke to Huang about his process in creating Hands Towards the Universe and what he hopes viewers will take away from his works.

Hands Toward the Universe (2024), David Huang.
Shannon Lee: What was your relationship to The Noguchi Museum prior to the open call? Had you visited in the past?

David Huang: The only time I went to The Noguchi Museum before the Open Call was during the pandemic. A friend of mine studies architecture and brought me there. I loved the experience! Even though it was during COVID—we were mostly in the garden—it felt like a really meditative experience.

A friend of mine texted me about the open call and I happened to have a lot of time on my hands. I was up in San Francisco visiting my family. I always wanted to design something for a museum and this opportunity sounded really fun. Even if I didn’t end up receiving the commission, I thought it was a really cool thing to work on. I was curious to see how my work as an illustrator would translate in this different context.

SL: Is this your first time doing a public commission?

DH: It’s not! But it is my first time working with a museum. I was supposed to have an opportunity with another institution last year that fell through so I was really happy when I found out about the open call. The Noguchi was a more exciting commission for me anyway—it’s in the AAPI community and this year’s theme really spoke to me. It just felt perfect.

I feel I can really relate to the idea of labor and love, using my work to show my love for the world. My work is a lot about curiosity and exploration, using illustration as a way to discover what’s both inside and outside of us.

SL: What were some of your initial thoughts when you learned about this year’s open call theme, “labor and love”?

DH: One of the most important things for me, as an illustrator, is my relationship to the world; how my work is influenced by current events and how I live. Things that are not related to illustration. The labor is the illustration but the love is my relationship to this world. Even the most simple things like going to the grocery store or being at the park. The way we look at the world is integrated into my work. I’m using illustration as a way to better see the world.

I think it’s important for artists to realize that our craft is always channeling something else. It’s not just about us. Illustration also helps me maintain a childlike curiosity and openness.

“I hope these works offer a short moment of repose for people to look inward and think about their relationship to the world.” —David Huang
SL: Going through your banner design, each banner panel depicts a different making process. I wonder if you could walk us through your design.

DH: It’s funny because I’ve done most of the activities I illustrated in these banners but like…I’m not a good sculptor. I really just wanted to honor these different forms of making, particularly Noguchi himself; his way of looking at the world. I’m also giving validity to all these different practices, highlighting all these ways of making with our hands. I want to show that hands are a key to the world.

I also wanted the design to have interesting gestures to look at to further emphasize the fact that by making, we allow people to discover something new that didn’t exist before.

One of them shows someone making a mobile sculpture. Another features a painter; that one always reminds me of Chinese calligraphy. I used to take classes as a kid. There’s also a ceramicist painting a trail of marks on his vase. I also drew a sculptor creating a giant head. I thought that was interesting because he’s creating this satellite that’s looking back out into the world but isn’t him. Another one is someone peeking out through a paper cutout.

I think a lot of my design also has to do with different ways of looking, which you see as a recurring motif. The title, Hands to the Universe, speaks to the hands seen in the designs and our relationship to craft.

SL: I love how subtle the use of the eye is in your designs, playing with this notion of mirroring both internally and externally—we are looking at these works but they are also looking back at us from within. What do you hope people will take away from your banners when they see them?

DH: It’s interesting that my work will be seen at a museum. So much of my work as an illustrator is fleeting. People look at it for a few seconds and they don’t think about it. I think at a museum, audiences engage with works for longer and with more intention. Maybe the colors will draw people in and entice them. Hopefully they can think about a lot of the things we discussed.

There’s so much going on in the world these days and I hope these works offer a short moment of repose for people to look inward and think about their relationship to the world. We’re all part of this giant web and I hope we can all find our own ways to create and contribute. I hope people are inspired to make work!

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