Human Landscape

Jaume Plensa’s sculptures are in just the right place at Toledo Museum of Art

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News For sculptor Jaume Plensa, the placement of one of his sculptures is as important as the work itself. That’s especially true of his outdoor works. Still he described his visit to Toledo to consult about where to situate the work on the grounds of Toledo Museum of Art almost as a play date. He walked around with a few friends and two gardeners carrying flags. “I loved those guys with the flags.” Amy Gilman, the museum’s associate director and one of those in the group, asked him Thursday night why he decided to place one work, “The Heart of Trees,” up on a hill, instead of on the flat, where the museum had suggested. The world renowned artist said: “A kid loves to change things. If you say ‘down,’ then I say ‘up,’ and it’s not more complicated than that.” “You know my son,” Gilman quipped. The exchange was part of a public conversation held Thursday at the museum as part of the ongoing exhibit Jaume Plensa: Human Landscape, which continues outdoors and in the Levis Galleries through Nov. 6. In his introduction, Museum Director Brian Kennedy called Plensa “a most distinguished art practitioner in our world today.” “A very significant part of Jaume’s practice is public sculpture, creating moments for public engagement,” he said. Plensa’s work is on display around the world, including “the most extraordinary work he’s made,” the Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Plena said, in placing a work: “You are not thinking about the object in itself but what energy this object is spreading about. … The space is much more important than the work itself.” That was demonstrated in the siting not only of the Human Landscape works but in “Speigel (Mirror)” which sits on the edge of the museum’s 36-acre campus. When Plensa visited to consult on the installation in 2012, he made “important adjustments” to the initial site, Gilman said. She and exhibit designer Claude Fixler had originally envisioned placing “Speigel” on a small rise. But the artist wanted it brought down closer to the street. “I have a certain utopian idea of what is art’s relationship to society,” Plensa explained on Thursday.  “I think art should go to them and embrace the community.” On the hillock, “Speigel” was “in a certain way protected.” He knew museum officials saw the sculpture as a bridge to the surrounding neighborhood and the city. So he brought it down “at the same level as our human beings,” he said. He wanted residents to say: “This is mine. That belongs to me. That piece is ours. It is part of the community, so I should really respect that piece. I should love this piece. I should live with it.” It has, Gilman said at a press conference last week, become one of the museum’s most beloved works. Plensa said that the way his work is appreciated, even loved, by people around the world “for me is a mystery.” “I’m from a specific culture,” he said. The artist, who like Picasso is from Catalonia in Spain, “grew up in a specific geographic area.” Why people can final this common ground in a work of art, he said, is “the most beautiful accident we can get.” But it’s not because he’s trying…


Plensa’s mythic monoliths invite visitors to explore Toledo Museum’s grounds

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News For the next six months “Paula” will preside at the Monroe Street entrance of the Toledo Museum of Art. The sculpted head stands 22 feet tall, weighs 35,000 pounds, and if you listen closely enough she may whisper to you. Jaume Plensa’s work needs room to speak to viewers. Space for viewers to stroll around and quietly commune with the large structures. The human forms reflect back to viewers something, maybe secrets, about themselves. The Toledo Museum of Art has given the Plensa’s art the room it needs both inside in the Levis Gallery and spread across the museum’s 36-acre campus. The Spanish artist’s work has already found a home here. At a recent press preview, the museum’s associate director Amy Gilman said that when Plensa’s “Spiegel (Mirror)” was installed at the intersection of Collingwood and Monroe a few years ago, museum officials weren’t sure what the response would be. “We didn’t know what would happen when we put something at such a prominent intersection of the museum and the city. … The public doesn’t always like the public part of public sculpture.” Even before the installation was complete, she said, “it became beloved. It became a touchstone.” Since then people have picnicked, played, and wed near the sculpture. So when the opportunity to bring this show, which was organized by the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville, to Toledo, “we didn’t hesitate.” The installation of “Spiegel” also made people realize how far the museum’s campus stretched. Gilman said the museum wants to extend its programs into that 36 acres, and Plensa’s “Human Landscape” is the ideal vehicle to further that mission. So through Nov. 6, “Spiegel” will be joined by “Paula” and five more monumental Plensa sculptures spread around the grounds. The museum has a summer’s worth of outdoor activities planned, starting with the Community Block party today (Saturday, June 18) from 6 to 10 p.m. and continuing with outdoor poetry readings, flashlight tours of the sculptures, poetry readings, concerts, and a Play Space for children. “One of the things we’re really working on here is activating the entire campus,” Gilman said. The intention is to continue to engage the same caliber of artists as the museum has always exhibited “and work with them in unique and wonderful ways.” The installation of “Human Landscape” was a collaborative effort, explained Claude Fixler, exhibit designer for the museum. The artist himself visited to consult on the placement of the outside sculptures, as he had when Spiegel was installed. And his representatives were on hand when the 18 works on paper and sculptural installations were set up in the Levis Gallery “to make sure Plensa’s vision is carried out in placement and lighting,” Fixler said. The design is meant to give the experience a sense of rhythm and carry the viewer through the exhibit and “giving the larger pieces more space so you have more time to be with them and contemplate them.” he said. “It is a very contemplative environment,” Gilman said. “It works to encourage you to have that interaction with them. It’s a dialogue not only with the work but with yourself.” Lighting sets the mood. The Levis gallery is dimly lit, except for the illumination of the objects. “His…