Monumental sculpture emerges from shallow waters

By Martin Macdonald

Six monumental sculptures by New York-based artist Manolo Valdés (b. Valencia, Spain, 1942) are on show at the City of Arts and Sciences cultural and architectural complex in Valencia, Spain until 10 December 2017. The large-scale women's heads, originally displayed at the Place Vendôme in Paris last year, have been installed in a shallow pool adjacent to the otherworldly Santiago Calatrava-designed Science Museum.  

Rising up from shimmering turquoise waters, the heads - up to five metres high - include various adornments. The stone-like aluminium-cast La Mariposa (The Butterfly) features a giant butterfly headdress, Los Aretes (The Earrings) sees two massive orbs protruding from the sides of a head, and the wing-like swirls of the steel and iron La Diadema (The Headband) invariably attract the viewer's gaze. 

Mariposas (Butterflies) sees a multitude of beautifully dark butterflies fluttering around while the exquisite La Doble Imagen (The Double Image) features two white marble faces surrounded by delicate iron leaves. Last of all, a huge broad-brimmed hat takes centre-stage in the intriguing aluminium La Pamela (Pamela – Picture Hat).

Context is key. The Spanish sun, the pool's openness, water, and the cutting-edge architecture itself all add fresh combinations of light and shadow. It is precisely the exhibition's new setting - a move from a traditional yet opulent Parisian square famous for housing the Ritz as well as salons of famous dress designers to a futuristic water-filled wonderland - that has injected the impressive heads with a fresh sense of dynamism and fun.

Valdés, renowned for his depictions of women in a wide range of media - painting, sculpture, drawing and prints - has, in these recent sculptures, created some of his most imposing and fascinating 3D works. His practice continues to reference Spain's rich artistic heritage, particularly Diego Velázquez but also Antonio Saura, Manolo Millares, and Antoni Tàpies. 

Manolo Valdés, La Mariposa (The Butterfly), 2016