Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum’s major exhibition of large-scale sculptures by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa opens this Friday, May 22, and will be on display through November 1, 2015. Featuring outdoor and indoor installations, including sculptures imagined specifically for Cheekwood’s grounds, Jaume Plensa: Human Landscape is organized by Cheekwood in partnership with The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, which will also feature four of Plensa’s sculptures. This marks the second time the two arts organizations have partnered on an exhibition. They both exhibited works by glass artist Dale Chihuly in 2010. Plensa’s sculpture Isabella (2014), installed near the entrance to the Frist Center, mirrors a “sister” cast iron sculpture, Laura with a Bun (2014), sited at the entrance to Cheekwood.
The exhibition at Cheekwood presents a rare opportunity to experience the magnificent work of Plensa in Nashville. This is the first time the artist’s work has been seen in such depth since his 2010 exhibition at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.
From Cheekwood’s release:
Among the 9 large-scale outdoor works is Plensa’s 2007 Heart of Trees, in which seven seated bronze figures, based on a self-portrait of the artist, are each covered with the names of the artist’s favorite composers. Each seated figure “embraces” a live tree; Cheekwood recently planted a fast-growing species known as the Kentucky coffee tree to accompany Heart of Trees. Composers are an apt subject for the artist who has described music and sound to be of particular influence. Plensa sometimes describes the sensation of seeing and feeling as “vibrations.”
One of those sculptures, Silent Music II, will become part of Cheekwood’s permanent collection, it was announced yesterday by Cheekwood president and CEO Jane MacLeod.
“This is the first major acquisition for Cheekwood in a long time,” said MacLeod. “It’s part of our strategic mission to be the most important venue for outdoor contemporary sculpture in the southeast. Of all of these pieces, we thought that Silent Music was the perfect one for Nashville.”
Plensa has been in Nashville this week, overseeing final work on the installation and meeting with media. Yesterday, he walked media through the gardens and into the mansion to discuss some of the sculptures and their inspiration. Together with photos from NowPlayingNashville.com’s Erin Hornsby, we’ve transcribed some of Plensa’s comments about his work for you to enjoy, and perhaps even take with you when you visit the galleries. All of the images were shot during the day, but we understand a return visit at night is definitely in order. Be sure to visit Cheekwood’s website for garden and mansion hours, and NowPlayingNashville.com for schedule of Plensa-related programs, including Spanish Nights.
The Soul of Words I and II, 2014
“I’ve always thought that an alphabet is a beautiful metaphor about society. One single letter is nothing, but together we can compose words, and with words text, etc. Single individual human beings alone seem like nothing, but together with others than can create a family and be a country, etc. When you choose different alphabets, the shapes of the letters are so different, and express so well the background of every culture. When you put them together, it’s so dynamic; so beautiful because it’s so diverse. In this case I’m using eight alphabets: Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Cyrillic, Greek, Latin, and Hindi.
“There is also this amazing relationship between the two figures. They are in dialogue. There is an amazing space in between that creates a lot of energy. There is you in front of a mirror, you and your shadow, you and the other. The idea is that the other is always yourself.”
The Heart of the Trees, 2007
“Every single individual is a public space in itself. Is a public space in motion. Sculpture is trying to dream about ourselves; trying to dream about people; a sense of community. One of the main things that I love to talk about is the relationship between body and soul. The body as a container. Where is the soul in your body? The soul continues to grow, even if the body gets fixed in one size. I cast my body in one particular size, but the tree continues to grow from myself. That is something in the medieval times that alchemists were dreaming about. They thought that from the dead body a new life was coming up, that the roots and the tree were trying to reach the cosmos. Our humanity is on the ground. This has a little bit of that spirit.”
“It’s made of poems from many different poets – William Blake, Williams Carlos Williams and many others. Many times when you are thinking, it seems that thoughts are crossing paths. This could be my self-portrait, too. I’m always in this chaos of ideas. But I find humanity has this amazing capacity to illuminate ideas with a not-so perfect kind of life. And I think poets have an amazing capacity to transform these ideas or images into words.”
Self Portrait, 2013
“Self Portrait is a good self-portrait in my case because I love to be completely isolated sometimes, thinking about myself, who I am, where I am going – these kinds of main questions that every human being always has in mind. Inside there is a human figure made of the alphabet as well. And around is this kind of beautiful imperfect globe also made with alphabets. The beauty is that you can see the space inside but you cannot reach it, it’s completely closed in some ways. We have an exterior part that is easy to arrive at, but another part that is impossible to touch. Even people you love have parts that you can never know perfectly. That is the beauty of people.”
Awilda and Irma, 2014
Created for Cheekwood Installation
“This piece has become the heart of the show, maybe because it’s the lowest part in the park and everything is going there. A sculpture is never a single element in itself. That is the beauty of this: that you can see through it, that they are never hiding what is happening behind them, and I think that’s very important. The landscape gets into the head. And when you see the portrait you also see the trees. It’s a beautiful idea about our thoughts and dreams in a transparent way. I think it’s almost a perfect installation. I’m pretty sure it’s the most beautiful installation I’ve ever done in my life, thanks to the beauty of the park, and the magician (ed. note: Cheekwood chief curator, Jochen Wierich) who created the possibility that is could appear to be floating. I guess it’s a piece that is the combination of many good situations and lot of energy. It’s a good example that one sculpture should not be beautiful itself. It should make beautiful the things around it. A piece is very good and is working when everything around it is working.”
Rui Rui’s World II, 2013
“All my portraits have the eyes closed in a dream state position. The idea being that when someone is in front of the head of the sculpture, it’s somewhat of a mirror. What I am trying to do is invite them to look into themselves. Many times we are hiding an enormous amount of beauty inside ourselves that no one can see. Even we ourselves are unsure of it. The idea is to give a very spiritual message in a very traditional medium. Here we found the perfect position for that, which is a reflecting pool.”
Silent Rain, 2003
“Letters alone are nothing, but together produce poetry. People are encouraged to walk through (the installation). That is one position. When you accept that poetry is important in your life, that is the main position.”
Keep on eye on NowPlayingNashville.com and Cheekwood.org for more on Plensa-related programs and art exhibitions.