It is worth getting ARA’s print edition this Sunday to hold it in your hands. It is a work of art born out of the complicit partnership between a great artist and a newspaper placed at his disposal to look at the world jointly for one day and pay homage to his work and explain it to our readers. This issue has been curated by Jaume Plensa and the artist has selected every picture from his vast work, be it a drawing, a sculpture or a poem, to weave a dialogue between the artist and each of our stories today. A joint outlook on the world emerges from this partnership, despite all the differences: namely, the fact that the artist’s work lives on, whereas journalism merely tries to explain the present moment.
Hours of discussion and work have gone into preparing this issue —“It’s important to do stuff”, Plensa likes to say— and we filled them with words and ideas that are forever present in his creation and help us to explain him: the invisible, public space, square, silence, time, memory and the greatest of all, the one idea that deserves to be typed all in upper case: BEAUTY.
Jaume Plensa is a mild-mannered man whose gaze is as piercing as an arrow. He refers to himself as “a man of action” and his work, spread all over the world, is evidence of that. A good deal of his universal pieces are monumental sculptures, which in many cases the public has grown to love and feel as something of their own. By doing so, they have managed to hold on to Plensa’s monumental yet delicate objects, which have become part of the space shared by the community.
Plensa’s works are conceived to elicit a response and they manage to touch some invisible, hidden human fibre. The elongated beauty of a young woman with closed eyes radiates energy and spirituality. She appears to embrace us, to protect us. Another motions us to keep quiet and her gesture comes as a shock, amid the noise.
These days, as we reflect time and again, we understand that Jaume Plensa has taken it upon himself to think about everything that we are touched by: the public space we share, the beauty that heals, human communication (regardless of everyone’s own alphabet), a sense of belonging. In short, his work is a reflection on humankind, with its greatness and failings, fear, joy and people’s dreams and nightmares. Plensa’s creations take up the public space like a gift and enquire about what is shared.
In a long interview we talk about his latest great project, set up in Grand Rapids (Michigan) during the Covid lockdown, which he hasn’t been able to visit yet. The marble pieces with bas-reliefs were shipped in hundreds of crates. We discuss opera and his work directing Macbeth in Barcelona’s Liceu opera house, as well as his relationship with the city. He calls it a love-hate relationship which has not yielded a monumental project like the ones he has scattered all over the world, even though at one point he was working on one that is now gathering dust in his studio and we publish today. Did the project fail due to the prejudices of some who regard art that is committed to beauty as not being “disruptive” enough? Did it fail because it became impossible to build trust between the private and public sponsors? Plensa hits the nail in the head when he points out Catalonia’s “incredible ability to miss opportunities, to create the necessary conditions that lead to nothing” as a defining trait of our nation.
Born into a musical family, as a young child at home Plensa would squirrel himself into the family’s grand piano. He sees creation —be it a sculpture, a poem, music or the silence that complements it— as the only passports he recognises. His works cut cross the imaginary boundaries with the notion that beauty is not backward, but necessary and healing. His works displayed in public spaces amount to a declaration of intentions which people have taken onboard. We want to join in this tribute and we understand this special artist’s issue as journalism’s sweet surrender to beauty. Thank you, Jaume Plensa, for your generosity in trying to explain yourself within the pages of a newspaper.