Southern California: Noguchi's worlds

This sculpture garden represents California's diversity

My pilgrimages to South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa have been more about channeling my inner shopaholic than recalibrating my spiritual balance. But tucked behind a TGI Friday's, one of Southern California's most placid urban spaces awaits.

Designed by artist Isamu Noguchi, California Scenario is a sculpture garden that portrays the diversity of the state's landscapes, from redwood forests to the desert. The 1 1/2-acre work manages to evoke nature in a most unlikely place.

Considered the 20th century's most important Japanese American artist, Noguchi was born in 1904 in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights; his father was a Japanese poet and his mother was an American writer.

As part of the Noguchi centennial, an exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum focuses on his ceramics work, which combined his modernist approach with traditional Japanese design. Noguchi, who died in 1988, often felt caught between cultures, and in many respects these ceramics reflect a fusing of those oppositions. So, too, I discovered, does California Scenario: freeway-close Zen in the heart of Orange County. The Isamu Noguchi and Modern Japanese Ceramics show is on display through May 30, 2004 at the Japanese American National Museum (369 E. First St., Los Angeles; 213/625-0414). California Scenario is at 611 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa.

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