Isamu Noguchi might be best known in New York for the obelisk-like, sometimes rough-hewn sculptures permanently housed at the Long Island City museum bearing his name and dedicated to his work. But he was also a terrifically creative designer and craftsman whose oeuvre is notable for its tremendous range: He made sets for his close friend the choreographer Martha Graham, modernized traditional Gifu paper lanterns, and drummed up highly inventive ideas for playgrounds, public fountains, and rock gardens. His Sunken Garden, set into the Chase Manhattan Bank plaza just steps from Wall Street, is one of those projects he was able to realize. Seven basalt rocks sit on a base of pale, wave-patterned paving stones; encircling the whole thing is a clear glass wall that allows viewing angles both from plaza level and from the offices below. Unlike Momo Taro, his nine-piece granite sculpture housed upstate at Storm King Art Center, which Noguchi intended the public, particularly children, to climb onto and interact with, the sunken garden is meant to be seen, not touched. But its presence powerfully counters the rigidity of the built environment that towers over it. If “look up” is a hackneyed reminder to those buried in their phones, in this case, look down.
1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, Manhattan