Born in Switzerland in 1964, but currently based in New York City, Ugo Rondinone has two concurrent major exhibitions in the Big Apple: Human Nature: The Sculptures of Ugo Rondinone, at the Rockefeller Center (between 49 and 50 streets) and Soul, at Gladstone Gallery, on view until July 3.
Human Nature consists of 9 colossal stone figures measuring between 16 and 20 feet in height, and weighting upwards of 30,000 lbs. each. The idea of this exhibition originated two years ago, when the Public Art Fund contacted Rondinone with the intention of finding a sculpture suitable to the special characteristics of the Rockefeller Center. The Fund had cancelled all their programs since 2008, but after their contact with the Swiss artist, they agreed to the exhibit.
Taking into account the magic of this particular area of Manhattan, the artist thought of Stonehenge: stone figures placed in the middle of the city as if transformed from another time.
“The stone figure is the most archetypal representation of the human form; an elemental symbol of the human spirit, connected to the earth yet mythic in the imagination. The image of the figure belongs to nobody, is timeless, and universal,” said artist Ugo Rondinone.
The sculptures are named after our most basic feelings: “Sad”, “Calm”, or “Static”. The aim of the display is not to compete with its surroundings, but rather to complement it. Following these guidelines, the artist opted for vertical works instead of horizontal pieces.
Public art requires a very specific kind of installation, as opposed to the needs of a gallery space. The pedestrian viewer has no information about what he sees, nor does the display offer any. But Rondinone’s work is democratic, seemingly simple, and reaches a wide variety of audiences.
He often describes his own work as “silly”. The monumental sculptures on display at Rockefeller Center present themselves like a forest of giants, and their immovable legs form gateways through which visitors may pass, sensing the tactile surfaces of these primal forms. This reflects Rondinone´s meticulous nature, detailed and simple at the same time, influenced by the modernism of Alberto Giacometti—another Swiss artist— and informed by the writings of the 20th century Irish playwright Samuel Beckett.
Human Nature and Soul are not only genuine for their unique characteristics, but because this is the first time Rondinone works with stone. This represents a new stage for the artist, who in recent years has devoted more of his attention to public art.
Rondinone is a multimedia artist who avoids art fairs. He recently opened a new three-story study, where he wants to provide space for recently graduated artists who could take part of six-month programs. ■