Our news now comes in 140-character bursts and animated-gif listicles, and journalists can't catch a break, but the almighty power of the reporter is beautifully immortalized on the facade of 50 Rockefeller Plaza. The grandiose bas-relief sculpture titled News, by famed Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988), stands above the entrance to what was originally the Associated Press Building. (The building's anchor tenant is now Bank of America; the Associated Press, the wire service that continues to provide its services digitally and otherwise, relocated out of Rockefeller Center in 2004). Unveiled in 1940, News depicts five newsmen getting the scoop through traditional, analog methods: with a camera, over the wire, on the telephone, via a teletype machine and with good ol' pen and paper.
The story of how News came to be is as fascinating as the piece is powerful. And even more amazing is Noguchi's personal history. Now known primarily for his mid-century-modern coffee tables and lamps, in his early years he studied sculpture with Constantin Brancusi, created theater sets for Martha Graham, befriended Buckminster Fuller and Alexander Calder, had an affair with Frida Kahlo and willingly placed himself in a Japanese internment camp during WWII, all while creating portraits, pottery, sculpture, furniture, fountains, parks, plazas and other public designs.
Commissioned as part of an open contest in 1938, Noguchi's design for the AP Building won out by far. Though the competition specified that the piece should be made of bronze, Noguchi offered his idea in stainless steel—News was, for many years, the largest and heaviest stainless steel sculpture in the world. It weighs over 10 tons and was cast in nine separate pieces before being welded into three huge sections for transport and installation.
Aesthetically, News is spectacular. Christine Roussel, author of The Art of Rockefeller Center, celebrates the piece's "intense angles, radiating high relief lines and broad smooth planes that superbly give the work a fast-paced energy." The vibrancy and power of the sculpture, and Noguchi's deep understanding of space, dimension and movement—even within a static, gigantic metal sculpture—is evident from even a quick glance.
Roussel, also the official archivist of Rockefeller Center, told us that it is her personal favorite piece in the complex. "Isamu Noguchi's gleaming stainless steel bas-relief was his first architectural commission and one of the few figurative pieces he created," she explains. "It is one of the major Art Deco works in New York City."
Though Atlas and Prometheus get more attention, and our methods of gathering and disseminating news and information have evolved beyond a reporter's notebook and a stubby pencil, Noguchi's News stands as a testament to a very important job and remains one of the most significant and stunning pieces of art in Rockefeller Center