Defining the vast interior space in the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park's new Welcome Center Garden Pavillion designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Plensa’s Utopia is comprised of four 20-by-90-foot carved marble portraits depicting the faces of Marianna, Julia, Laura, and Wilsis. Each of Utopia’s floor-to-ceiling portraits utilizes the human form to symbolize the capacity for a shared humanity. The monumental installation is crafted from white marble, a material chosen by Plensa both to harmonize with the architecture and for its nuanced reactions to light and shadow. In the words of the artist, “Utopia is our human landscape, a space to embrace humanity and our collective dreams.”
Utopia is Plensa’s second site-specific commission for the Meijer: In 2006, while planning their extensive career survey for the artist, the Meijer commissioned the work, I, you, she, he…, for permanent display in their sculpture park. Utopia joins one of the largest collections of outdoor sculpture in the world, joining major works by artists such as Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and Jim Dine, Yinka Shonibare and Jonathan Borofsky.
Partner in Utopia, GRAY gallery began its decades-long relationship with Jaume Plensa in the early 1990s. “The concept of ‘utopia’ has perhaps consumed mankind forever, but certainly since long before the word was apparently coined by the humanist philosopher Sir Thomas More in 1516,” noted Paul Gray, Principal at GRAY. “I think that what is experienced in the Pavilion at Meijer, through the imagination and labor of Jaume Plensa, whose sculpture is embraced by an almost dreamlike space created by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners, takes this search meaningfully closer. And that is truly something, as your heart tells you immediately when you experience it.”
“The Welcome Center brings together world-class, cutting-edge architecture by celebrated architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and sculpture by leading artists of our time,” stated David Hooker, President & CEO at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. “Inside and outside the building, guests will experience the works of Tony Cragg, Jaume Plensa, Yinka Shonibare, Marshall Fredericks, Alexander Calder, George Segal, and El Anatsui. We are sincerely grateful for the extraordinarily generous support of the Meijer family and so many others in creating a cultural institution that has served over 11 million people.”
“From our very first visit, it was clear that Fred and Lena Meijer have given Grand Rapids an extraordinary gift,” commented the architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. “Our design approach has evolved to be one of horizontal buildings and walls, forming a calm and unifying frame so that sculpture and the gardens move to the forefront. This design philosophy is clearly expressed in the [Welcome Center], a space that holds Jaume Plensa’s Utopia, our belief in the harmony and unity of place and of humankind.”