Sunken Garden, 1961-64
The "ground" of the garden is made up of small, light-colored stone bricks. The surface slopes gently, creating a series of low hills and valleys topped by seven black boulders of varying sizes that Noguchi collected from the bottom of the Uji River in Kyoto, Japan. The sloping of the surface is accentuated by the organization of the bricks, which circle around to show the contours of the ground. The lines from the bricks also serve to draw attention to the boulders, which are located on the highest points of the ground.
In the winter, Sunken Garden is dry. In the summer months, the garden turns into a fountain, with water spouting into the air, and flowing across the ground before disappearing around the edges of the space. Because of the variations in the level of the brick surface, some of the boulders are partly submerged, while others stand on dry ground, with water lapping around them.
Noguchi drew on the concept of Japanese Zen meditation gardens in his creation of Sunken Garden . As with these gardens, the viewer is not meant to enter Sunken Garden, but rather looks in from the outside . Additionally, the lines formed by the placement of the light-colored bricks are reminiscent of the raked sand found in Japanese gardens .
Although Noguchi found inspiration for Sunken Garden in traditional Japanese gardens, in particular the garden at the Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto, Noguchi veered from tradition in many aspects of his design . Noguchi comments, "...I have never been interested in doing a Japanese garden per se" . Instead, Noguchi chose what he wanted to include from among the many rules governing the design of Japanese gardens, and adjusted the rest to fit his needs. In describing some of his choices in Sunken Garden, Noguchi writes, "I had said that in the West the ideal was to triumph over gravity, and that in doing a rock garden in America it would be logical to have the rocks themselves levitate..." . This is especially true of Sunken Garden in the summer time, when water flows across the surface of the ground except at the highest points, where the boulders are placed. Noguchi also combines eastern and western traditions in his inclusion of the European-style fountain in the garden . Drawing on other traditions as well, Noguchi sites stylized Chinese paintings of ocean waves as inspiration for the wavy lines moving across the surface of the ground .
Possible discussion themes
What are the differences between artistic inspiration, appropriation,
paying homage, and allusion?
How has Noguchi treated two neighboring spaces differently?
What are the relationships between public art and architecture?
Related art works
Group of Four Trees.
Pulitzer Fountain and
General William Tecumseh Sherman.
For more information about Noguchi, visit the website of
The Isamu Noguchi
Garden Museum. The museum is located in Long Island City, Queens.
For more information about Noguchi, visit the website of The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum. The museum is located in Long Island City, Queens.
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