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Art Beacons in the night

Spanish sculptures on the Bayou: Houston, meet Jaume Plensa

News_Tolerance_THIS_by Jaume Plensa
The vision for "Tolerance" by Jaume Plensa Courtesy of Houston Arts Alliance
Jaume Plensa, "To J.W. Goethe (variant IV)," 2010, Stainless steel. Richard Gray Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo by Steven Thomson
News_Tolerance_THIS_by Jaume Plensa

Men of letters will soon greet passersby along the south side of Buffalo Bayou, representing a new endeavor by civic arts organization Houston Arts Alliance. The group has commissioned Catalan sculptor Jaume Plensa to produce seven stainless steel human figures, approximately 10 feet high, composed of the artist's signature metal alphabet mesh.

Resting on hand-picked boulders imported from Spain, the figures will glow at night from within, creating a constellation of beacons in the "Harmony Walk" area of Buffalo Bayou Park, bounded by Allen Parkway, Memorial Drive, Waugh Drive and Montrose Boulevard. The collective piece has been christened with the title Tolerance, perhaps a nod to the nascent nearby pedestrian bridge's original moniker, now renamed Rosemont Bridge.

The seven respective sculptures are composed of letters from distinct languages, including Korean, Greek and Hindi, reflecting on Houston's penchant for unity amid international diversity.

In his artist statements, Plensa has clarified that the letter arrangements do not spell words and have no direct significance. In some respects, the piles of letter matrices are a "denouncement of the murmur of useless words that invade our time." He adds, "The soldered points knot together the apparent disorder of the letters, returning to the origin, to the moment in which language, still not formulated, may talk both of the totality of the word and its negation."

The Barcelona-born-and-based artist is working in an idiom of Buddha-like figures composed of letters that also has exhibited in such venues as the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich.; the Goethe Universität in Frankfurt, Germany; the Musée Picasso in Antibes, France, and an international exposition in Zaragoza, Spain. Other notable recent public installations have been commissioned in Calgary, Alberta; Southern Methodist University's Meadows Museum; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York's Madison Square Park.

From glam galleries in Dubai to the nave of the Chichester Cathedral in West Sussex, there's plenty of Plensa to go around.

The Buffalo Bayou installation — funded by a small group of private donors, working in conjunction with the mayor's office, Houston Arts Alliance and Greater Houston Community Foundation — is slated to be unveiled on Feb. 15, 2011. We also can expect to see HAA reveal details of an "internationally recognized" temporary civic art program in the year ahead.

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