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Outside In: The Sculptures of Jaume Plensa

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The sculptor Jaume Plensa has lost track of his work. When asked the number of countries in which his monumental sculptures are displayed at this moment, the serious-minded Catalan pauses for a second and emits a rare chuckle: “I don’t remember!” (A conservative estimate puts the number at 10.)

The international appeal of Plensa’s work is no accident: His human figures betray no cultural specificity nor any emotion. They’re empty vessels—often literally so—into which, he says, “people can reflect their own interior, their own spirituality.” Plus, their sizes make them ideal for public squares. “I’ve been always aiming to create a place where people could meet,” he says. Plensa is a creature of repetition, continually revisiting similar themes and forms. Among his most recognizable creations are people—frequently kneeling or crouching—whose exteriors are composed of a dyslexic jumble of letters from around the world, as if the invisible man dove into a vat of international alphabet soup. The idea is to eliminate barriers to communication.

Several such sculptures will be included in Jaume Plensa: Human Landscape, a tandem show of the sculptor’s work in Nashville from May 22 to November 1. The collaboration, by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts (fristcenter.org) and the Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art (cheekwood.org), will be Plensa’s biggest exhibition to date in the United States.

At the same time, Plensa will be showing a large piece in Venice’s Church of San Giorgio Maggiore for the duration of the Biennale (from May 9 to November 22; jaumeplensa.com). The bare basilica is a fitting spiritual setting for Plensa, who says, “I believe there is more inside our bodies than matter.” And what better way to show that than emptiness?

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