Archive for April, 2011

Yorkshire Sculpture Park – Jaume Plensa

Monday, April 11th, 2011


There is always an interesting instant of turmoil when coming across an artist’s work for the first time. The turmoil is caused by a confluence of emotions and thought processes – a visceral response meeting an intellectual response.

Attending a private view of Jaume Plensa’s work, organised by the irrepressible Emma from Culturevulture, I had an instant of turmoil. Unfortunately, the intellectual thought process won. My visceral response of finding comfortable familiarity in his human forms and heads was overshadowed by the problems I had with him using text to make these forms. Having explored typography in a graphic design business I once ran, I learned enough to know that type itself, is a language which has many facets, so as soon as I saw his images, I was distracted by the type. Why has he used a sans serif font? Why are the words in English (although, I subsequently discovered that he does use other languages)? Am I supposed to read the text? Why doesn’t he write a book instead of creating sculpture?

Some of the text sat uncomfortably on the human form – two or three words plonked on the head in some instances (I use the word, ‘plonked’ because words placed on a human form can only be arbitrary).

I dare say, valid arguments could be fashioned which justifies the mixing of the mediums, but somehow, I couldn’t see the cave painters of Lascaux attaching labels to their animal creations. Similarly, I can happily look at the grandeur of a mountainside without wishing that there was some kind of legend (in English, in Garamond italic) carved into the rock. The rock itself, is enough.

On a subsequent visit to the gallery, I overheard a woman asking her friend, “Why is the text in English? He’s Spanish.” It’s not just me then, with my typography background.

Having said all that, if I ignored the typography issue, some of the work produced a positive visceral response. In the room full of alabaster heads, elongated and sleeping, my nine year old daughter tightly squeezed my hand as fear gripped her. The ‘gong’ room is also undeniably visceral. Despite my intellectual reservations, there is still plenty to admire and enjoy.