Together | Jaume Plensa

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Photo © Jonty Wilde

Press release for the exhibition:

On the occasion of the 56th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia, one of Venice’s most celebrated landmarks, the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, will host Together, a major exhibition of new works by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.

Plensa (Spain, b.1955) is one of the world’s foremost artists working in the public art space, with permanent works spanning the globe including the Crown Fountain (Chicago), Echo (Seattle), Breathing (London) and Roots (Tokyo). The exhibition is curated by Clare Lilley, Director of Programmes at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The works in the exhibition all make their debut in San Giorgio and reflect the artist’s continued interest in a bodily relationship to space, scale, material and place.

For four hundred years the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore has been a place of worship, communication and meditation, where Palladio’s profound architecture creates a stilling and contemplative environment. Plensa’s response to this powerful space is Together; a conversation between two sculptures --‐ hand, suspended beneath the cupola in the foreground of the altar, and head, sited in the nave. Placed on the dominant west--‐ east axis of the building, the works set up a line of spiritual and intellectual discourse which evokes emotion and seeks to connect with his viewers on an intuitive level.

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As a speaker of five languages alongside a nomadic life that takes him around the globe, Plensa’s work reflects a desire to break down barriers. Merging difference is a cornerstone of his work, and here it is further emphasized by the installation of meticulous drawings and a group of five alabaster portraits in the contiguous Officina dell'Arte Spirituale, located 300 meters from the entrance to the Basilica on the island’s northern edge. Plunged in darkness and lit to reveal their luminous opacity, the sculptures were carved using reformed scans of real girls; chosen because, like nomads, they have traveled, settled and traveled again. Chosen, too, because they are teenage girls on the cusp of leaving and arriving, whose potential – like that of all humanity – so deeply glows.

Plensa’s sculptures reference a Judeo--‐Christian tradition while connecting with a much longer human history, where the making of art has social purpose and which we see played out across histories and geographies – in heads from the Croatian Upper Paleolithic, carved some 26,000 years ago; in exquisite, elongated hands incised in stone from 1300 BCE Egypt. For these and other reasons, Plensa’s forms will connect people and welcome them into the Basilica. Made from stainless steel which distills and diffuses light, Plensa’s hand and head are at times transmutable hazes that pull and root the gaze. The opening, gestural hand formed from characters of eight languages, speaks of a coming together of peoples and traditions. Similarly, Nuria’s face speaks of diversity; indeed the subject is the daughter of a Chinese friend in Barcelona, who in her young life has already crossed many borders.

Clare Lilley, Curator, commented: “Plensa’s installations for the Isola di San Georgio Maggiore are testament to his acute understanding of space and scale. His sculptures do not impose themselves on these historic spaces; rather they capture and reflect the actual light and shadows within to communicate a metaphorical language. Both visually stunning and intimate, they draw our attention to a world where migration and difference challenge civilised behaviour; in this place, which for centuries has welcomed world travellers, Plensa’s work will connect people of many faiths and of no faith.” 

In collaboration with the monks of the Abbazia di San Giorgio, as part of the cultural activities of the Benedicti Claustra Onlus, Together hopes to advance the Benedictine community’s efforts to develop a number of restoration projects of the monumental Palladian complex on San Giorgio Maggiore. Inspired by textual elements in the body of Plensa’s work, the project has contributed a significant donation to restore the Abbazia’s 15th and 16th Century illuminated manuscripts; prayer books previously too delicate for public view.

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Dr. Carmelo Grasso, head of the Benedicti Claustra Onlus explains: “During the Plensa exhibition an 'Illuminated choral' of San Giorgio Maggiore Abbey, liturgical instrument of prayer and spiritual dialogue used by the monks for centuries for the daily Opus Dei and community prayer, will be placed on the lectern of badalone's choir behind the main altar. This is the contribution of the Benedictine Community to strengthen the sense of togetherness and the intellectual and spiritual dialogue between the hand, the head and those who wish to enter into a relationship with the artist's work and the great Palladian Basilica.”

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Press release for the installation Together by Jaume Plensa from
Curator: Clare Lilley
Photography: Jonty Wilde

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