New York

Jaume Plensa

Sharpe Gallery

Jaume Plensa’s ominous sculptures and works on paper have the compelling power of primordial objects and images. A ritualistic quality surrounds each piece. Plensa creates large sculptural forms from a lexicon of biomorphic and primitive shapes. Some of his creations are better defined than others, but there is no denying the essential intensity of his vision.

Galileo (all works 1988) is a monumental cast-iron work that projects the timeless durability of a monolithic structure. The primary structure is a mound-like wall that curves in a semicircle; this arc surrounds three large conical shapes. Although the arrangement of elements implies protection, all the surfaces are exposed. The corroded quality of the chipped, aged exterior shows the inescapable effects of time for all material objects. The simplified forms covered with natural rust look as if they have come from a forgotten culture.

By contrast, Cutaina I and Cutaina II are highly stylized pieces, reminiscent of primitive artifacts but dramatically affected by Plensa’s conscious craftsmanship. The latter work consists of a tall, attenuated body with a specifically defined slit in its center. Plensa achieves striking linear effects on the surface, particularly with an elongated, curved form that resembles flowing hair. Yet these pieces lack the element of intrigue that pervades the artist’s other works.

Plensa expresses his intuitive visions quite clearly in his uncommon works on paper. An exquisite sense of line and a sensitive understanding of paper surfaces give these pieces a hypnotic appeal. Gran Panotxa (Large ear of corn) is colored a dirty yellow, and marked by buckling rivulets that look like veins. The work’s central motif is a large protruding black pod with an unwinding stem that ends in a coil covered with a dark charcoal residue. An underlying vertebrae motif defines the center of the composition. This metaphorical spine consists of several irregular, tightly pinched bulging shapes. Although everything about the piece looks artificial, it still seems to have a distinct sense of life and prior history. There is an implicit power to Plensa’s forms that is sometimes diminished by the sleekness of the technical execution. His work is most successful when it seems to spring from intuition rather than from artful self-consciousness.

Jude Schwendenwien