Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art’s expansive grounds are spectacular on their own. But decorated with the massive sculptures of renowned Spanish artist Jaume Plesna, they are simply breathtaking! As his largest exhibition to date in the United States, Human Landscapes explores the duality of human nature, the interplay of mind and body. Composed of various materials including steel, iron, resin and glass, Plesna integrates his large figurative sculptures into the landscape, utilizing the evocative effects of light, water and sound. Many of his figures possess an ethereal likeness to religious and historical icons. Massive but gentle, they have a transcendent quality that inspires reflection and encourages self-awareness.
Language, history, music and biology are recurrent themes in Plensa’s work. In the sculptures featured above, for example, the two figures are composed with symbols and letters of eight separate languages. The figures, set atop white river stones, which become illuminated at night, mirror each other as if in conversation. This arrangement asks us to engage in this dialogue. Below, a similar composition sits atop a small pond. These pieces, entitled Awilda and Irma, are made of stainless steel mesh and were designed specifically for Cheekwood. Again, the power of these two massive portraits is contingent upon their context within the surrounding environment.
Plensa is known across the world for his large marble portraits. The one below, entitled Rui Rui’s World II, has an elongated shape, a strategy that Plensa uses repeatedly to challenge our perception of beauty in regards to the human form. With a serene expression on her face, this monumental sculpture looks out across a small pool, endowing the space with a sense of sacredness.
Several of Plensa’s pieces allow viewers to step inside the frame of the sculpture. This allows you to engage with the piece from a new perspective in which you are completely ensconced by the symbols. One can’t help but to relate this experience to the sensation of listening to well-composed music, in which you are totally enveloped by a euphonious arrangement of notes.
Several of Plensa’s pieces are located on display within Cheekwood’s mansion. One of the most arresting works was Silent Rain, which features strings of phrases from Plensa’s favorite poets, all made from iron. Guests are encouraged to walk through these curtains of words and touch the letters, which, when they do, creates sounds reminiscent of wind chimes, reiterating our connectedness to nature. Scale is once again a vital part of this work’s success. Winding our way through this oversized alphabet we were reminded that, though small, we can make waves in our surroundings.
Plensa not only creates sculptures and installations but also intricate works on paper. Composed with paper, ink, wax and resin, these works have an incredible tactile quality. Laced with similar elements like symbols and letters, Plensa’s illustrations are solemn portraits that have a peculiar dreamlike quality that makes them feel ephemeral and transient. One of the rooms within the mansion has two massive brass gongs labeled fire and water. They sit opposite of each other and are illuminated by overhead lights that create an eclipse effect on the wall behind. Guests are encouraged to strike the gongs, which emit powerful reverberations throughout the room.
Plensa’s art is experienced most powerfully when viewed in person. Cheekwood will keep this provocative exhibit on display until November 1, so be sure to catch it before time runs out! And if you are looking for a great summertime activity, attend one of Cheekwood’s Spanish Nights, which feature live music and performances to be enjoyed while you view the works around the garden.
A portion of Plensa’s work can also be viewed for a limited time at The Frist Center for Visual Arts.
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