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Plensa, Jaume

Category: Artist and sculptor

Jaume Plensa is a Spanish artist and sculptor, who works with glass, steel, bronze, aluminium, water, light, sound and video in his sculptures.  He has also produced many delicate black and white works on paper. Although the shape of his work may change, the artist himself asserts that all of his creations are based on the same core idea, and it is one that is clearly extremely spiritual – the idea of form and function – duality – the animation by spirit of the apparently material form. 

Plensa not only creates sculptures and drawings, but has collaborated on many projects for theatre and opera, on designing sets and costumes.  With over 30 projects spanning the globe, Plensa is probably one of the most renowned Catalan sculptors in the contemporary art scene. Though he is mainly known for his large-scale ethereal sculptures, Plensa has worked with a very diverse array of media, ranging from video projections to acoustic installations.

His sculptures range from smaller pieces to truly monumental works.   In November 2012, for example, the Albright–Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York unveiled a 32-ton sculpture by Plensa called Laura. The 20-foot (6.1 m) tall sculpture is composed of 20 massive pieces of marble from the south of Spain. 

Some of his works are to be found in museums and galleries, Plensa's work can be seen regularly at the Galerie Lelong & Co in Paris and New York, for example, and the Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago and New York.  His work can also be found in galleries and museums in Europe, the United States and Asia.  In Germany, several museums have staged exhibitions of his work.  

But a very significant part of Plensa’s work is in the field of sculpture in the public space. His large sculptures can be found in several cities in Spain, France, Japan, England, Korea, Germany, Canada, and the USA.  The Crown Fountain, for example, which was unveiled in Chicago’s Millennium Park in 2004, is one of Plensa’s largest projects [see observation]. The work led to many commissions, right up to the most recent, Pacific Soul (2018) in San Diego, USA, Julia (2018) in Madrid and Voices (2018) in 30 Hudson Yards, New York, USA.

The spirituality of Jaume Plensa

Plensa’s works delve into areas such as meditation and contemplation, as well as the nature of thoughts.  One of his exhibitions, for example, was entitled One Thought Fills Immensity.  Many of his monumental heads have their eyes closed as if in thought or in a meditative state. 

The Spiritual Meaning Behind Jaume Plensa's Sculptures - Alison Moss  14 December 2016

Most of Plensa’s busts have their eyes closed, hinting at their withdrawal from the world and their connection to their inner self.

The contemplative figure, Julia's Words, for example was part of the Secret Garden, exhibition and explored ‘silence as a gift in today’s noisy world’

From An Interview with Artist Jaume Plensa – by Ginny Van Alyea [Chicago Gallery News]

JP: Distractions. Messages, messages, messages. And I’m upset about it, but I guess we just have to reintroduce the concept of silence in our life…………… Silence to me is the capacity to be you with yourself and to try to understand the rest of the world, not to be apart. No, no, no. I love community. I love society. But I think we have to offer people silence as a gift today.

Silence as a gift.

Plensa uses the more intimate galleries or museums to explore these more esoteric themes, for example:

From An Interview with Artist Jaume Plensa – by Ginny Van Alyea [Chicago Gallery News]

Jaume Plensa: in … smaller spaces, it’s ideal to develop a very intimate kind of work. There’s a certain scale; so there I have been using that space for [my alabaster heads] which have this kind of strange inner light, this illusion which seems related with the soul.

Plensa is also aware as we can see from the quote above of the importance of light and its symbolic connection to Light.

From An Interview with Artist Jaume Plensa – by Ginny Van Alyea [Chicago Gallery News]

It’s the first time I’ve cast my portraits, or my heads, in stainless steel. I’ve been using a lot of stainless steel but more to modulate the light.

Duality – Light and Dark, Function and Form, Masculine and Feminine.  It was the Crown Fountain project that brought Jaume into contact with his subjects.  And interestingly enough pursue the notion of the divine feminine and the importance of the feminine to our future:

From An Interview with Artist Jaume Plensa – by Ginny Van Alyea [Chicago Gallery News]

JP: When I finished that project I was so moved by the relationship with people that I decided to continue in parallel with my work with portraits. But, I decided at that moment only to do portraits of a young woman, because I always thought the future was female – men are a beautiful accident, but just an accident in-between.
Since that moment, that was around 2004, I’ve been taking portraits –maybe I did 14, maybe less. ………… These sculptures here have, as always, their eyes closed. This [pointing to each one] is Julia, she’s a girl from the Basque country. Here Isabella is from Sao Paulo [Brazil]. She, Carlota, is from Barcelona. She’s Laura Asia, a Chinese girl but from Madrid. Over there is a Chinese girl from Shanghai who is living in Vancouver. And she’s Paula, who is a girl living nearby my studio………… I know the parents, I know the families. I know everything.

In other words his girls are real people .  But the sculptures are manipulated and the intention is to try to make the people seem like ghosts – ethereal, here and not here – crystallised spirit that can form and then melt away.  This is actually almost mystic thinking,  as most mystics believe the visible universe is being formed anew all the time, by the action of the functions of the forms they animate.

From An Interview with Artist Jaume Plensa – by Ginny Van Alyea [Chicago Gallery News]

JP I used [them] a little bit as a canvas where I could dabble in different ideas - elongating, stretching. I did many things with them [and] with mesh heads only………….
 CGN: They look so light, that they look ethereal.

JP: That’s something that I’m also trying to get – that these things disappear when you are walking [by]. They lose volume. When you look back from the other side, …… – it seems they are floating. They will be like a drawing on a page in this way.

A large number of Plensa’s slightly smaller sculptures are formed of letters from a number of different alphabets.  All letters and all words are just symbols, symbols which even with a definition, may still be hard to explain.  In other words, words are flawed as a truly accurate means of conveying some concepts – especially spiritual ones - and most mystic systems have resorted to paintings, analogies, myths,  and sculptures to try to convey spiritual concepts.   

Plensa’s sculptures both try to explain this very theme,  this idea that art [in all its forms]  is essential to providing some help in the understanding of the metaphysical, but in some cases the sculpture itself actually describes the symbol word and meaning. 

Right below Yorkshire Sculpture Park

At a time when much sculpture reflects the brutality and emptiness of the materialistic, money mad world, Jaume’s sculptures are actually beautiful and blend in with the natural world. 

Whereas many artists simply reflect the poverty of our times, the complete disconnect that has occurred between humans and Nature – the Great Mother and the Great Father, Jaume’s works offer hope and beauty, sometimes laughter and release and a pointer to the future.

  Connection again.

Career landmarks

Left:  Julia
Plensa studied art at the "Llotja" School School of Art and Design in Barcelona and in the Escola Superior de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi.  He had his first exhibition in Barcelona in 1980 , and since then has has lived and worked in Berlin, Brussels, England, France and the United States.  He currently [2020] resides and works in Barcelona.

He has taught at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and regularly lectures at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a guest professor. He has also given many lectures and courses at other universities, museums and cultural institutions around the world.

Below right Carlotta at the State Hermitage Museum



Jaume has received numerous national and international awards, including

·        1993: Medaille des Chevaliers des Arts et Lettres by the French Minister of Culture

·        1996: Awarded by the Fondation Atelier Calder

·        1997: National Award of Arts by the Government of Catalonia

·        2005: Invested as Doctor Honoris Causa by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago[

·        2009 : Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture, , which the artist received in London for his work Dream

·        2012: Creu de Sant Jordi Award

·        2012: Spain - National Prize for Fine Art

·        2013: Premio Nacional de Arte Gráfico – Plensa has had many exhibitions dedicated to the graphic arts including retrospectives at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen (France) and the Centre de la Gravure et de l'Image imprimée La Louviere (Belgium) in 2006. In 2013 he received the National Graphic Arts Award granted by the Calcografía Nacional in Madrid.

·        2013: Velázquez prize for the Arts [ Ministerio de Cultura de España]

·        2015 - the Global Fine Art Award for the Best Public Outdoor Installation, With Together, at the 56th Venice Biennale, Basilica San Giorgio Maggiore.

·        2018 : Honorary Doctorate of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Plensa himself regards the landmark exhibitions in his career to be:

·        The Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona exhibition in 1996, which travelled to the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Malmö Konsthall in Malmö (Sweden) the following year.

·        Love sounds organised for the Kestner Gesellschaft in Hannover in 1999

·        Chaos-Saliva  - In Madrid, Plensa received particular acclaim for the exhibition Chaos-Saliva, which opened in 2000 at the Palacio de Velázquez – Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

·        The Secret Heart -  which was shown at three museums in the city of Augsburg in 2014

·        Die Innere Sight at the Max Ernst Museum, in Brühl in 2016.

·        Human Landscape – which during 2015 and 2016 travelled through several North American museums: Cheekwood Estate and Gardens and The Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, TN, the Tampa Museum of Art in Tampa, FL and the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, OH.

·        Invisibles – one of his more recent museum exhibitions at Palacio de Cristal–Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, and at the MACBA in Barcelona which travelled to the Moscow Museum of Modern Art in Moscow, Russia, and at the Museum Beelden aan Zee in The Hague, Netherlands.

·        Behind The Walls (2018) at Rockefeller Center, New York, which travelled to MUNAL–Museo Nacional de Arte, Ciudad de Mexico. [see right]

In 2011, a large selection of Plensa’s sculptures were exhibited at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton, England. The extensive exhibition was shown in the galleries and the park. Thanks to this exhibition, the Park gained national recognition. To date, this has been one of the most complete shows ever devoted to the work of Jaume Plensa.[below Nuria and Irma YSP]




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