I had been eagerly awaiting the opening of the exhibit Noguchi: California Legacy at the Laguna Art Museum for months. In 1996, when I moved back to Southern California from the Sacramento, I visited a small park located in the South Coast Plaza Town Center in Costa Mesa. Ever since my first visit to this 1.6 acre park, I had been intrigued about its origins. It wasn’t until seven years after my first visit had I learned about the designer of the park, the celebrated artist and designer, Isamu Noguchi.
Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904 and spent his life traveling the world, including spending some time in Southern California. It was in 1979 when Henry Segerstrom first approached Noguchi with the idea of building a park in Costa Mesa. At first reluctant, Noguchi finally accepted the commission and began work on the park in 1980, completing it in 1982. Always taking inspiration from nature, Noguchi designed a park that was primarily constructed out of natural occurring materials and representative of the varied California landscape. He selected indigenous plants to California such as redwoods and cacti, he showed the varied terrain of our state through his design elements…the High Sierras to the deserts of Joshua Tree National Park. Pictures of the park, correspondence between Sergstrom and Noguchi about the design, and a video of the construction of the park can now all be seen at the Laguna Art Museum. It was fascinating to get an insiders glimpse into the making of public art like California Scenario. Now knowing the incredible story of the California Scenario and the symbolism it holds, I have a greater appreciation for this park that I discovered by accident 15 years ago.
A second section of the Noguchi exhibit is: What is Sculpture? Akari from the Venice Biennale. In 1986, when Noguchi exhibited at the Venice Biennale, his choice of installing a small but significant group of unique Akari light sculptures became quite controversial. The question of, “what is sculpture?” was asked. Could something functional like a lamp be considered sculpture or art? Noguchi believed yes, it could. The idea of art and function serving as one was a philosophy that Noguchi believed in and therefore created from.
The Akari (a term meaning light as illumination, but also implying the idea of weightlessness) were inspired by a 1951, visit to the Japanese town of Gifu, known for its manufacturing of lanterns and umbrellas. Noguchi’s Akari lamps are constructed out of handmade paper or silk.
Although appearing simplistic and plain in design, this is an arresting and impressive exhibit. Upon walking into the exhibition hall, you will notice a soft yellow glow. This is because the room where the light sculptures are displayed, is only lit by the light given off by the Akari.
The Noguchi at Gemini G.E.L. is the final exhibit at the Laguna Art Museum in the Noguchi, California Legacy. Founded in 1966, Gemini G.E.L. is a workshop where the artists do all the drawing or carving directly on the printing elements. In 1982, Noguchi designed 26 sculptures made of steel plates. Noguchi himself described the Gemini edition sculptures, “short poems pertaining to California where I was born.”
These minimalist sculptures again show the inspiration that Noguchi found in nature even in the naming. For example, Cactus Wind, Shaft & Root, Sky Mirror, Sparrow and Wind Catcher.
After my visit to the Noguchi exhibit, I found my California pride taking flight. Noguchi was able to capture the essence of California and its beauty. He left behind a legacy of art that will no doubt continue to inspire us all.
Open Daily 11:00am to 5:00pm
$12 general admission; $10 students, seniors and active military;
FREE for children under 12
Now thru October 2nd
Docent-led tours every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 2:00pm
Free audio tour accessed through your smart phone
By Anne-Marie S.