We’ve been following an intriguing project under way at the under-construction federal courthouse: public artwork by renowned artist Robert Irwin.

The outdoor project uses an unusual medium: hundreds of green, leafy Ligustrum hedges. Irwin’s vision uses the hedges to create a zig-zagging ramp installation for the outside courtyard.

In June, Sam Hodgson and I visited the hedges growing in pots at the Miramar Nursery.

Tuesday, contractors worked to plant those hedges in the shape Irwin has conceptualized. Hodgson brings us this peek.

Irwin himself was among the hard-hatted observers. He’s lived in San Diego for the last two decades.


The hedges are one piece of Irwin’s involvement in the courthouse project, which will likely be one of the octogenarian’s last. His other connection to the courthouse: The lobby will house an acrylic prism he made decades ago that never found an appropriate home. This project will liberate the 33-foot acrylic prism from a university basement in Northridge.

Both pieces exemplify significant pushes in Irwin’s career. The transparent acrylic column in the lobby is meant to capture light and tweak your perception without making you focus on the object itself — part of Irwin’s interest in anti-object objects. And the hedges fit into another major interest of Irwin’s: outdoor gardens, such as the ones Irwin designed at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Here are a few more glimpses of workers planting the hedges:



Landscape architects at Spurlock Poirier are working closely with Irwin on the hedges project and have worked with the artist in the past. They expect to do a final walkthrough on Oct. 29 before turning responsibility for the project over to the federal government in early November. Here’s what the finished project is hoped to look like. Rendering courtesy of the General Services Administration:

Landscape architect Martin Poirier joined us for our last “Meeting of the Minds” arts and culture event to talk about Irwin’s significance in his own life and thinking. Here’s his presentation:

Irwin’s career has stretched over more than five decades. He’s installed or exhibited much of his artwork around San Diego. You may have seen:

• His 1983 sculpture “Two Running Violet V Forms,” an installation of purple fences in a eucalyptus grove, part of the UC San Diego Stuart Collection.

• A 2007-2008 Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego retrospective of his career, and the museum’s “Phenomenal” exhibition in 2011 highlighting the “Light and Space” movement. You can see some of his pieces, including a smaller prism, in this video.

• A permanent piece, “1° 2° 3° 4°” commissioned for the La Jolla campus of MCASD that cut open rectangles in windows overlooking the ocean to frame the view and allow the sound, smell and wind to come in.

I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

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Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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