What is there in the head of Jaume Plensa? Other heads, hollow bodies with a reticular or threadlike texture, seated, contemplative, tattooed, illuminated with jelly beans on a giant cane. They are everywhere and all over the world. In squares, parks and ponds. On a cliff, facing the sea or within it. In the lobby of an office skyscraper and in a private Japanese garden. They are statues demonstrating a vigorous design and scale that attract popular taste although we only perceive in them the pastoral emptiness of fallen human nature, also the loneliness of the stronger and more fragile artist, more intense but much more devoted to the commercial than what that some who knew him in the beginning would have imagined.
The documentary Can you hear me?, which opens in theaters this Friday, is produced by Plensa’s own studio together with the Lelong (New York, Paris) and Gray (Chicago) galleries, which make millions with the sales of their sculptures, one of the most Instagrammed of the world. Divided into seven chapters –like the seven spheres–, the film never allows us to fully see the true nature of the man / artist, always elusive. When we look at it from the front and go around it, the profile dissolves and disappears, giving a flat shape.
Plensa’s documentary adventure begins with the production process of one of his most ambitious projects, in his workshop camouflaged between industrial buildings in a Barcelona industrial estate where dozens of operators work. Set Voices, designed to decorate the lobby from 30 Hudson Yards in Manhattan (one of the most abhorrent urban operations and to which the effects of the pandemic have done more justice for leaving it in its nakedness), it is composed of eleven steel spheres made of different alphabets and held from the ceiling by very fine cables (“it will be like he little Prince between planets ”, he decides). The intervention is from 2018, a year of grace for the artist, who completed his double on the Rockefeller Center esplanade: a giant white head covering his face with his hands (Behind the Walls). The scenes of the montage in the middle of Fifth Avenue, with the workers placing the compact slices of polyester resin and marble dust, one on top of the other, until the figure is completed, close the documentary.
The remaining 60 minutes correspond to the comments of his gallery owners and museum directors where Plensa has been exhibiting in recent years (Antibes, Barcelona, Stockholm, Tokyo, Montreal) on works that start gestures of admiration wherever they land. Especially happy are the children, who splash in front of that digital Trevi Fountain that is the Crown Fountain (2004) in Chicago’s Milenium Park.
Deliberately or not, the documentary dispenses with the testimonies of “academic” critics and historians (the champions in which the directors of the main museums in the world play), the gallery owners and friends or patrons who knew and supported him in his early days (Toni Berini, Ignacio de Lassaletta, to name just two) are also absent. As soon as the artist discovers some detail of his life: a couple of photographs and an anecdote of the boy who was hiding inside a piano, pure fantasy, another of the young man with a lively, intelligent look. There is a moment when the artist exclaims: “I am not interested in the past!” But the poets do, and they are always referred to in masculine: Blake, Shakespeare, William Carlos Williams, Vicent Andrés Estellés, also their influences, Malévich, Fontana, Ingres…. And a single woman, and with a mustache: Frida Kahlo.
Jaume Plensa’s documentary is a tailored suit. In the future, others will make the portrait to put it in its place, in “that place where you can always return”, which is how he defines sculpture. Can you hear me? is a selfie, that of the artist surrounded by a false modesty while he illuminates the world with statues messianically (“I would like them all to be seen from stellar space, connected”). Beyond a few repeated clichés, Plensa is barely heard here.
Can you hear me? (2020). Documentary film. Pedro Ballesteros. Premiere: October 2.