Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville is a secret garden of sorts, known for art installations that combine art, language and childlike joy in an enchanting garden setting.From fantastical treehouse installations to exhibitions of light, Cheekwoodis pure poetry when it comes tomergingart and language with the natural world.
In May, Cheekwood debuted another grand-scale exhibit of masterful sculptures on the estate’s historical grounds. This one-“Jaume Plensa: Human Landscape”-features nine enormous outdoor sculptures, indoor installations and a selection of works on paper by internationally acclaimed Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.
“Jaume Plensa: Human Landscape” offers visitors a rare opportunity to experience the artist’s spectacular work in Tennessee-and Plensa’s largest exhibition to date in the United States. The exhibit runs through Nov. 1.
Plensa uses a variety of materials, including cast iron, steel, bronze, alabaster and synthetic resin, to create portraits that transcend race, culture and language. He often uses excerpts of texts from authors and poets whose writings are meaningful to him. The characters from world languages form the physical elements of a sculpture, making language as central to his work as human forms themselves.
Among the large-scale outdoor installations is Plensa’s 2007 “Heart of Trees,” in which seven seated bronze figures are each covered with the names of the artist’s favorite composers. Each seated figure “embraces” a live tree. Cheekwood planted a fast-growing tree species, the Kentucky coffee tree, to accompany the installation.
Plensa also created new works for the exhibit, including a double sculpture titled “Soul of Words,” located on the prominent color garden lawn, and a 23-foot-high cast-iron head, “Laura with Bun,” located at the entrance to the grounds.
Cheekwood is adding one of Plensa’s sculptures to its permanent collection: “Silent Music,” composed entirely of stainless steel musical notes. It stands as a symbol of the universal language achieved through music, celebrating the imprint left on body and soul.
Plensa is the recipient of many international accolades and awards, including the prestigious National Visual Arts Award of Spain; the Velasquez Prize, awarded by the Spanish Cultural Ministry; and Spain’s National Graphic Arts Prize. His best-known U.S. works include “Crown Fountain” in Chicago’s Millennium Park and “Echo,” formerly on view in Madison Square Park in New York and now permanently sited at Olympic Sculpture Park at the Seattle Museum of Art.
“Cheekwood’s beautiful landscape and historic origins offer such a unique venue for the display of large-scale contemporary sculpture,” Cheekwood CEO Jane MacLeod said. “With each exhibition of this caliber, we continue to build recognition as a national treasure and our reputation as one of the Southeast’s premier art destinations.”
Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art was designed by leading American landscape architect Bryant Fleming between 1929 and 1932 for the family of Leslie Cheek of the Maxwell House Coffee fortune. It became the site for a botanical garden and art museum in the 1950s and opened to the public in 1960.
Visitors can take self-guided and docent-led tours of the property. Much of the Cheekwood property remains in its natural historical state with hills and uneven footing, so wear appropriate shoes for walking. A shuttle runs between buildings during business hours. Several areas are accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. Programs are offered throughout the year, so be sure to check the event calendar.
Cheekwood is located at 1200 Forrest Park Drive in Nashville, 8 miles southwest of downtown Nashville. The gardens are open Tuesday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on the first Friday of the month until 9 p.m. July through October. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and $7 for children 3-17. Parking is $3 per car. For more information, visit www.cheekwood.org.
Jenni Frankenberg Veal enjoys writing about family travel adventures in the southeastern United States, as well as the people and places that make the Southeast unique.