Body of Knowledge

Recently I took a different route than usual on my daily social-distancing bicycle ride and ended up at the new Westend Campus of the Goethe University, where I hadn’t been for several years. (I studied at the old campus of the same university here in Frankfurt nearly half a century ago.)

Body of Knowledge’ in Frankfurt

Along with lots of other changes to the new campus they have added a central square (named after Theodore W. Adorno, of course), and in the middle of the square is a sculpture called Body of Knowledge by Jaume Plensa.

That same morning, by coincidence, I had seen a similar sculpture in Sheree’s blog viewfromtheback. Hers is called Le Nomade, by the same artist, and she found it on the ramparts in Antibes, France, overlooking Port Vauban. The Nomade is 8 metres tall and consists of stainless-steel capital letters of the alphabet — our alphabet — all welded together to form the shape of a person facing the sea. But you just have to imagine the person ‘facing’ the sea, because he or she has no face.

Details of the sculpture in Frankfurt

From a distance, the Frankfurt sculpture looks very similar to the one in Antibes, but when I got up close I saw that in addition to letters of our alphabet, the Frankfurt Body of Knowledge also includes Greek and Chinese characters, numbers and mathematical symbols, all jumbled together.

Another difference is that in the Antibes sculpture the letters are all more or less right-side-up, whereas in Frankfurt the letters and other characters are welded together at all angles, however they happen to fit. So the Antibes sculpture has a cleaner, more structured look, at least to me.

Plaque by the sculpture in Frankfurt

In the pavement next to the sculpture in Frankfurt is this plaque, which reads:

Body of Knowledge
Artist: Jaume Plensa
donated by Johanna Quandt (1926-2015)
Honorary Senator of the Goethe University.

According to Forbes magazine, Johanna Quandt was the 8th richest person in Germany when she died in 2015, because she owned 16.7 % of the BMW car company. Through her University Foundation she was (and still is) a major donor to the Goethe University.

‘Body of Knowledge’ at night

At night the Body of Knowledge sculpture in Frankfurt (like Le Nomade in Antibes) is lit up from the inside and below by several lights embedded in the pavement.

The artist’s website,, lists numerous works in public spaces. Some of these are similar to the ones in Frankfurt and Antibes, such as Pacific Soul in San Diego, Source in Montreal, Roots in Tokyo, House of Memory in Shanghai, Mirror and Tolerance in Houston, Soul in Singapore and Alchemist at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But many others are completely different. His largest project is the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, Chicago.

A special case is his sculpture L’Anima della Musica in the courtyard of the Violin Museum in Cremona, Italy. That one looks similar to the sculptures in Frankfurt and elsewhere, but instead of letters of the alphabet it is made entirely out of musical notation.

Details of the sculpture in Frankfurt, at night

Earlier in his career, Jaume Plensa also designed stage sets for operas, for instance at the Opéra Bastille and Opéra Garnier in Paris, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the Opera House in Kobe, Japan, the Salzburg Festival in Austria, the Ruhr Triennale in Bochum, Germany and the Teatro dell’ Opera in Rome, Italy.

My photos and text in this post are from 2020.

See more sculpture posts.

6 thoughts on “Body of Knowledge”

  1. Fascinating. I love modern sculpture. We keep finding Bernar Vernet in different places. The first time was in the Tuileries in Paris, then in the gardens of MOMA in Nice and last September at the Musée Würth in Erstein in Alsace. I’ll have to start looking for Plensa now.

    1. Thanks, Sally. As far as I can figure out, there are two Plensa sculptures in northern California: Sanna, 2016, at the Donum Estate in Sonoma, and Overflow X (made of stainless-steel capital letters) at 1500 Owens Street in San Francisco.
      (None in Paris, however.)

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