Internationally celebrated artist Jaume Plensa is known for his poetic approach to sculpture. He produces works of art that evoke silence and inward reflection, engaging in a creative practice informed by his deep interest in the physical manifestation of spiritual energy. On view in the museum’s State Street Gallery, Jaume Plensa: Talking Continent is an enveloping installation of suspended steel forms that appear to transcend their own physical weight and volume, and instead convey lightness, translucence, and fluidity. In keeping with the artist’s concept of sculpture as the spiritualization of matter, this floating body of work transforms the gallery into a space for contemplation.
Plensa uses the human figure in his sculptures as a universal symbol, as a way to break through cultural barriers that separate and divide. For instance, the two monolithic towers central to his famous public artwork Crown Fountain (2004), located in Chicago’s Millennium Park, function as video screens for moving-image portraits of 1,000 Chicago residents. Rotating every few minutes, the portraits illustrate the diversity of the city while also reflecting on our fundamental commonalities as expressed through the body.
In addition to his interest in the human figure, Plensa finds inspiration in language, and often includes literary phrases, words, or simply letters, in his works of art.Like generations of artists before him, Plensa’s use of text calls attention to language as a system of shapes that has the power to mediate—or confuse—our understanding of the world. The nineteen sculptural elements that comprise Talking Continents are made entirely from die-cut steel letters from eight different alphabets. Refusing to come together as words, the letters instead exist as abstract symbols which coalesce as a floating archipelago of cloud-like forms. As such, the installation suggests a breakdown in communication, or a dissolution of meaning, while at the same time embodying the very components needed to construct words and create meaning—the building blocks for cultural understanding. Talking Continents thus opens up a space of potential.
For Plensa, his multilingual sculptures represent islands or countries; their alphabetic diversity operating as a metaphor for our multicultural world. With human figures seated atop five of the largest floating spheres, Talking Continents offers a poetic vision of the five most populated continents in conversation with each other. A firm believer that art has the capacity to transform our lives, Plensa asks us to consider the ways in which we are linked together as a collective humanity, and how global interconnectedness and communication can be a path to universal tolerance, and acceptance.
Generous funding for Jaume Plensa: Talking Continents has been provided by the David and Paula Kraemer Fund; Ellen Rosner and Paul J. Reckwerdt; Mary Ellyn and Joe Sensenbrenner; Peggy and Tom Pyle; Gina and Michael Carter; National Guardian Life Insurance; Lynda and Charles Clark; Dynee and Barney Sheafor; Sara Guyer and Scott Straus; Karen and Craig Christianson; RSM; Wisconsin Public Radio; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.