Costa Mesa

Isamu Noguchi

South Coast Town Center

Recently completed at the South Coast Town Center in Costa Mesa, California, is a major new site-work by Isamu Noguchi. Situated in the approximately square space between two dark reflective-glass towers and the massive white-painted rear walls of a parking garage, the work is an allegory of the state of California. The entire area, including its layout of plants, shrubs, and a variety of grasses and trees, was designed by the artist.

The piece is an assemblage of site constructions, each with its distinguishable theme: a conical structure of small granite blocks surmounted by a stainless steel cylinder (a fountain) embodies the concept of energy; a grassy raised area planted with wildflowers, and with a granite walk outlined by redwood trees, evokes the state’s forests; a wide, circular mound scattered with sand and small rocks and planted with diverse cacti represents the desert; and the “water-use stone,” a towering, upended isosceles triangle of sandstone, channels a steady flow of water to a stream which meanders through the plaza along a bed of black river rocks.

Also, a monument to the “Spirit of the Lima Bean”—symbolic of Noguchi’s view of the relationship between art and nature—projects its massive, irregular shape from the plaza to a height of some 12 feet. The seemingly impenetrable presence of its huge desert boulders demands our contemplation of the tactile immediacy of nature; yet the structure of polished interlocking surfaces cementing the boulders together speaks with silent power of the organizational function of art. It is the combination of the two that invests the work with its latent energy and mystery.

Despite the large scale of many of its objects, the plaza invites human engagement. In demanding attention, the environment requires viewers to redefine their presence in it at any given moment, stimulating self-consciousness as it sharpens their awareness of the external world. Because of the length and breadth of the work, its proportions shift as one progresses through the space; what was massive up close becomes relatively small at a distance. Even the dehumanizing effect of the vast architectural glass facades is mediated, and they become friendly reflections of the magical garden they enclose. Acting as mirrors, these reflective building surfaces again reinforce the viewers’ self-consciousness.

It is contemplation rather than activity that can penetrate to the depths of consciousness. And since Noguchi’s work is contemplative rather than active in impact, this work’s location must have provided the artist with a challenge. To the west, the San Diego freeway offers a path to a headlong rush of north- and southbound motorists; to the north, a huge shopping mall attracts the hectic trade of a still-burgeoning Orange County; all around, banks and office buildings teem with their legions of white-collar workers. In such an environment, the creation of this stately oasis with its quiet assertion of human values is a remarkable achievement.

Peter Clothier