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Art Mon Nov 25 2013

Jaume Plensa Shows His Creative Chops at MCA Event

Jaume Plensa is a sculptor, a poet and a true creative spirit. He displayed all those talents and more in his appearance Wednesday evening at the theater at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The event -- titled "Architecture Is Art...Is Architecture Art?" -- was cosponsored by the MCA and the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Photo courtesy Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Plensa (his first name is pronounced "Jowma") is the creator of the magical Crown Fountain in Millennium Park. If you have ever taken children there, you'll know why I call it magical. The video faces and their waterspout mouths are funny and surprising, and the shallow depth of the pool and the showers that rain down the video columns at regular intervals bring about exuberance and playfulness in kids of all ages.

Plensa, a Catalan Spanish conceptual artist, was interviewed about art and architecture by Reed Kroloff, director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, who asked some provocative and insightful questions. But before the discussion started, Plensa came out alone to show 10 years of his work in an 18-minute slide show.

His sculptural works appear all over the world -- in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Most of his work is very large and figurative. He has created giant heads and figures in many different types of materials: marble, alabaster, cast iron, bronze, stainless steel and steel mesh, polyester resin. Some of the figures incorporate letterforms, numbers or musical notes. Many of the pieces were designed for public spaces. You can view his work by visiting gallery pages on his website.

Kroloff asked him to describe the most important features of his work and Plensa answered: "Scale, scale, and then, scale." But scale is not only size. "Scale is soul," he says.

The Crown Fountain, completed in July 2004, could be considered his most important work in the US. In 2011, the work Echo (a giant white head) was displayed in Madison Square Park in New York and the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo unveiled a 20-foot figure called Laura in 2012.

Plensa was asked to create a sculpture in water for Millennium Park. "This was always my dream," he says. The sculpture consists of a black granite reflecting pool between two 50-foot glass towers that use LEDs to display digital videos of the faces of Chicago people on the two inward-facing sides. His work included collaborating with the engineers who created the water system to be sure it would be safe for children. He likes the water flowing down the sides of the towers "like rain...or a tear" rather than spouting up as in some fountains.

Plensa says the Crown Fountain "is a modernist treatment of a European plaza where fountains have figures that spout water."

Kroloff asked the artist to comment on the title of the evening's event. "Architecture Is Art." Plensa replied (paraphrased): "Art has a personality. A building has to be more neutral. It should be a vessel for the message of the art displayed there."

Asked by an audience member about the source of his artistic inspirations, Plensa said it happens in many ways. He described working with miners in a small town near Liverpool. One of the miners talked about being 300 meters down in a mineshaft, where "light becomes a dream." The sculpture that Plensa created for the town is titled Dream.

Finally, here are some randomly chosen quotes from Plensa:

"I have eyes in my fingers. I have to touch my art."

"I love shadows."

"One thought fills an immensity."

"I'm trying to generate silence."

Both the CAF and MCA offer events on art and/or architecture. For more information, visit their websites: Chicago Architecture Foundation and Museum of Contemporary Art.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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