21. Jaume Plensa

  Jaume Plensa b. 1955, Barcelona, Spain The Hermit XI, 2012 stainless steel and stone 68.9 x 53.54 x 37.01 in. The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art Gift of Barbara (R1968) and Theodore (R1968) Alfond Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College 2013.34.034 Since the 1980s, Catalonian sculptor Jaume Plensa has been creating figurative works in cast iron, marble, steel and light. His pieces range from smaller indoor sculptures to large-scale outdoor structures on urban buildings and parks, but Plensa is known for his consistent and recognizable interpretations of the human body, which often have smoothly rounded heads, soft postures, and simplified features. He uses this universally discernable form to comment on overarching cultural frameworks and codes. Hermit XI is a solitary and contemplative figure that kneels on a stone that was sourced from Plensa’s native Spain. A thin steel skin composed of letters taken from eight alphabets form the body. The viewer sees letters from the Greek alphabet intertwine with Chinese characters, while an Arabic type mingles with Latin letters to demarcate the subtle curves that silhouette this genderless figure. This visual comingling of multiple alphabets suggests a mediation of language, a visual and auditory code that both unifies and separates societies. The plurality of alphabets may allow viewers from multiple backgrounds to “read” this figure, yet everyone will read this work differently. At the same time, a hermit, referenced in the sculpture’s title, symbolizes reclusiveness and inwardness. The legibility of this individual’s skin is therefore in tension with his or her supposed desire of solitude. This tension mirrors Plensa’s efforts to reconcile his Catalan roots with the contemporary globalized world. Through acknowledging this seemingly irreconcilable relationship between the local and global, Hermit XI acts as a model for a complex and nuanced sense of humanity.