Jaume Plensa - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips
  • "One letter alone is nothing. But together with other letters you get a word. A word with a word becomes a text, and so on. A person alone is nothing, but together with others we become family, a neighborhood, a city, a county, a country." 
    —Jaume Plensa

    Towering over viewers with a striking presence, The Conversation I, II and III from 2006 is exemplary of Jaume Plensa’s text-based sculptures that wholly transform the environments they inhabit. Plensa is renowned for his monumental sculptures and public installations that examine the complexities of human existence. Using letters to explore communication between individuals and cultures, Plensa’s ethereal works celebrate the human spirit. The transcendent The Conversation I, II and III is a paragon of Plensa’s marriage of letters with the human form. 


    Featuring three faceless beings crouched in communion, perched atop large stone slabs, The Conversation I, II and III belongs to the discrete body of work that encompasses I, You, She or He, 2006, held in the permanent collection of the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Yorkshire Soul I, II and III, 2010, which was exhibited at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield in 2011.


    Detail of the present work.
    Detail of the present work.

    While Plensa’s early text-based sculptures were often created with recognizable fragments of text, his more recent work has become increasingly abstract. Embracing letters as essential, timeless signs that transmit across generations, the artist arranges letters in arbitrary combinations. Created by “skins” composed from letters of the Latin alphabet, the figures in The Conversation I, II & III, emit an aura–summoning all that is latent and that remains to be said. Though Plensa regards himself as a classical sculptor, he lets himself be guided by his interest in spirituality and the intangible as he transforms solid metal into elegant, open forms that embrace fluidity and open spaces. 


    Poetic in their concise use of material, the figures take on a mystic quality, exploring the expanses between written text and body language. Plensa has stated: “I’m less interested in the individual than in the collective. Because I’m trying to proceed to the origin—not of shape, but of attitude.” Comprised of three beings, The Conversation I, II and III truly materializes Plensa’s interest in the collective over the individual. Stripped of individuality, the forms are simultaneously everyone and no one, mirrors through which we can begin to ponder our own circumstance. The duality between the ethereal nature of the forms and the strength of the steel from which they were borne lends an almost philosophical quality to the work. They are both vulnerable and strong—one of the paradoxes of the human condition.

    "Sculpture is the best way to ask a question. The main obsession for me was for me try to understand the relationship between individuality, single, and the community."
    —Jaume Plensa

    Speaking of his sculptural process, Plensa explained how, “in the beginning I used forged steel and cast iron, adopting an industrial technique for my sculptures. I was dreaming about the moment when the mountains were formed, the moment when everything was liquid and hot and suddenly started to cool, solidify, and take shape. For me, there’s a mythical element in the way fire transforms things into liquid. Something solid becomes liquid and then becomes an object again.” As if sprouting from the earth, letters emerge from stone, forming a crux where the natural and human-made meet. With the elemental materials of stone and metal, it is as if the delicate skins of Plensa’s figures expanded to their epic size and then froze in stillness.


    While its inward-facing figures express a silent union, The Conversation I, II and III notably communes with its environment. Nearly floating in the landscape, the work exists in harmony with the world around it. The latticed metal and open cavities transform the space around it rather than obstructing its setting. The open and closed form of the letters modulates light and shadow. Exploring notions of interior versus exterior, light versus dark, and nature versus creation, Plensa’s The Conversation I, II and III is a stunning metaphor of the human experience.


    Interview with Jaume Plensa at Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)

    • Description

      Please note that this Lot is located in Pennsylvania. If you wish to inspect the work in person prior to bidding, please contact Roma Patel (rpatel@phillips.com) to arrange a viewing.

    • Provenance

      Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago/New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006

    • Literature

      Gilbert Perlein, William Jeffet, et. al., Jaume Plensa, Valencia, 2008, pp. 134-135 (illustrated)

Property of an East Coast Collector


The Conversation I, II and III

stone and stainless steel, in 3 parts
(i) 118 x 65 x 90 1/2 in. (299.7 x 165.1 x 229.9 cm)
(ii) 118 x 65 x 94 1/2 in. (299.7 x 165.1 x 240 cm)
(iii) 118 x 67 x 98 1/2 in. (299.7 x 170.2 x 250.2 cm)

Executed in 2006.

Full Cataloguing

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $998,000

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022