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Getaway, Topics & Stories


Text: David Kenji Chang


Isamu Noguchi’s “California Scenario” is a modern curiosity: free to visitors since opening in 1982, it is a 1.6-acre public art work of sweeping scale. Its disparate elements – granite boulders, desert flora, towering redwoods, glittery fountains, geometric monoliths – belie its confident minimalism. It is both a kinetic tribute to the natural splendor of Noguchi’s birthplace and a quiet critique of the resource intensity needed to carve it out of the desert plain. 

It’s all the more curious because of its odd locale: encircled by glass towers and parking garages in a Costa Mesa business park framed by two freeways and one of America’s largest malls. It’s hard to find even if you know it’s there, but most don’t. I worked at the mall as a teenager and had no clue. 

Noguchi’s benefactor was agricultural tycoon Henry Segerstrom, who built the complex on his family’s former lima bean farm. Matt Kirsch of New York’s Noguchi Museum told me Segerstrom offered a rare working relationship – he gave Noguchi a “clean slate” creatively, with no middlemen or competing interests. Segerstrom’s one request was for an identifiable Noguchi sculpture; Noguchi replied with a bold 15-piece granite cluster that he renamed Spirit of the Lima Bean in Segerstrom’s honor. 

David Kenji Chang is a writer and comedian who currently lives and works in New York and Southern California. 

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