"With this work, I aim to introduce quietness and serenity to Madison Square Park, to transform the park further into a place of rest and dream," Spanish artist Jaume Plensa explained to the press at yesterday's opening of his public exhibition. Looming above the Oval Lawn at Madison Square Park in New York, near Fifth Avenue and 24th Street, is Plensa's monumental Echo (2011), a giant head made of blocks of white resin mixed with marble dust. The imposing 44-foot-tall sculpture represents the 9-year-old daughter of the artist's neighbor in Barcelona. The evocative work also recalls ancient monuments, such as the giant Olmec heads from Mexico or works of Khmer sculpture.

The Photoshopped distortions of Plensa's design-exaggerated verticality and elongated features-also conjures a sci-fi fantasy of time travel, as if the head belongs to some futuristic species that ours might one day become. The dramatic placement of the piece, with the Empire State Building towering in the distance—not to mention the fact that the artist shows the figure asleep, suggesting a dream state—adds to the overall haunting quality of the installation. The first public work Plensa has created for New York, and the largest he has shown in the U.S. to date, it is also one of the most effective displays in the park's ambitious and well-received contemporary art program spanning the past decade.

On view through August 14, the installation was commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. A concurrent exhibition of Plensa's recent sculpture and drawings is at Galerie Lelong, New York, through June 18.


PHOTO BY JAMES EWING