San Diego County Arts Editor

A “playful” obelisk, a “Light Clock” that will project a daily eight-minute sun show, and an “invisibly” suspended beam of wood will be the three major artworks to be unveiled at the August opening of downtown’s Horton Plaza shopping center. Renderings of the works--by nationally renowned artists Loren Madsen, Peter Alexander and Joan Brown--were made public Friday by Horton Plaza developer Ernest W. Hahn Inc.

The artworks, which were also approved Friday by the Centre City Development Corp., had been commissioned as part of a $1-million fine arts program for the 12-square-block, architecturally diverse retail and entertainment complex.

“These are very site-specific works and represent incredible ingenuity,” said Tamara Thomas, the Los Angeles arts consultant who played a major role in the selection of the works.

Thomas noted that while the three artists had much in common--all are native Californians in their 40s--they are also “quite diverse talents. Joan, of course, is a woman and there are very few women artists working on such a large scale.”


Brown, a San Francisco-based artist, has designed a 36-foot-high obelisk made of steel-reinforced concrete and covered with brightly colored tiles. It will be placed at the plaza site within the entrance shell of the complex’s two below-ground theaters.

Copper-capped, the obelisk will feature three levels of imagery separated by copper bands, depicting fish on the lowest level, a jaguar on the next, and birds on the third level. It will be the largest work Brown has yet produced.

“I chose to work in color, for a very playful, uplifting effect,” said Brown. “My interest in obelisks comes from my travels in Egypt in the ‘70s. I work mainly in symbolism. The imagery represents man’s ascent--internally and externally--through three levels: water, land and sky.”

Brown said the work would have a “fluctuating light” effect, and a lapis lazuli-like blue overtone.


(Brown’s work was chosen to replace that of New York sculptor Judy Pfaff, who had been commissioned originally as one of the three plaza artists.

According to project officials, Pfaff’s original design was approved, but she subsequently decided on a radically different design that proved “impractical” and would have required extensive site renovations.)

Peter Alexander’s “Light Clock” will be situated at the top, or third level, of the plaza complex, along the roof line.

Alexander, a Los Angeles artist known for works relating to the relationship of Southern California light and water, has created a work by which sunlight will fall upon a mirror, be reflected onto a masked prism, then hit a curved, mirrored surface that will reflect it onto a plaza wall.

The “light performance” will happen every sunny afternoon and will last for about eight minutes. The image will most likely be a series of blue-violet dots, spread over a space of between 30 and 120 feet.

“The work makes references to the sun, and to the earth’s movement,” said Alexander.

“Also what I like about it is that something as delicious (as the ‘light performance’) can only happen at a certain time every day.”

The third artwork, by New York-based sculptor Loren Madsen, who was unable to attend Friday’s press conference due to illness, is the latest in his longtime exploration of support and balance, and the tension between fragility and solidity.


To be situated by the plaza’s open-air market, or Mercado, along the project’s 1st Street side, the work will suspend a curved beam of teak and padauk wood, 58 feet long, from an intricate web of thin steel aircraft cable.

Twenty feet off the ground at its high point, the beam, which resembles a ship’s keel, will sway gently in the wind, and as the wood weathers, the reddish teak will turn light gray, the padauk darker.

Depending on the angle of sunlight striking the thin cables, the beam will sometimes appear to be invisibly suspended in air.

“The piece is a metaphor for a magic boat,” said Tamara Thomas. “All three artworks have something to do with the sun, though, and relate to it in certain ways. “