There, but not really. That’s the context for Barcelona-born artist Jaume Plensa’s public sculptures. They might seem like intrusions. They’re large. They’re set where people congregate. And the figures themselves are huge monumental heads. They sit in business districts and in front of an art museum. They emerge from the ocean. They hover above unsuspecting pedestrians. They rest in the neighborhood that surrounds the Venice Biennale.
They’re placed in sites where they should be noticed. Yet they’re not. It’s hard to get a head-on look at them. One piece, Figures representing seven continents, presents seated figures sitting atop tall poles. From the front and the back, other pieces, like Laura, are narrow like a Giacometti, almost invisible. From the sides, they’re flat and planer. They’re featureless. Others, like Wonderland, look solid but are really transparent enough to let light shine through and let things behind be seen.
Monumental as they might be in scale, the work is also unexpectedly intimate. Plensa conducts a tremendous amount of pre-construction, site-specific research. As a result, his sculptures are not interlopers. They feel right at home. They don’t compete with the ambient architecture. They don’t feel like art, at least the kind of art that draws attention to itself as such. In a non-secular society, the work wouldn’t be considered public sculpture, it would occasion some manner of worship. Nowadays it serves as a gentle reminder of the everyday spiritual function of art, the modern day equivalent in context if not in scale of Russian icons.
Plensa’s public sculpture has been placed in Germany, Britain, Japan, France, Spain, Canada, and the US. He’s won a slew of awards, including the National Culture Award for Plastics Arts of the Government of Catalonia, an Honorary Doctorate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He’s also been conferred a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park, UK
Andorra la Vella, Andorra
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
New York City