I make sculptures of what it means and feels like to see, whether this is understood to be a physical or metaphysical phenomenon.– Ugo Rondinone
Kukje Gallery is very pleased to announce nuns and monks by the sea, a new multi-venue exhibition of works by artist Ugo Rondinone to be installed in both the gallery's Seoul and Busan spaces. This is the artist's third solo exhibition in Seoul and his first in Busan. The strategy of showing work in different venues simultaneously is one that Rondinone often employs, allowing him to directly engage both space and time, thereby widening the spectrum in which his work is experienced. Viewers are prompted to walk through his work, moving physically and metaphysically, listening as much as seeing, feeling as much as understanding. This openness is a recurrent theme in Rondinone's practice and binds his many projects despite their diversity in material and symbolism. It is in the spirit of this focus and renewal that he presents nuns and monks by the sea, consisting of two unique bodies of work installed in the different exhibition spaces.
The exhibition title highlights the formidable painted bronze sculptures from the series nuns + monks installed in Kukje's K3 gallery in Seoul. Evoking the mystery and gravity of a holy person, the five 'nuns + monks' possess and animate the space; anthropomorphic sculptures consisting of two distinctly painted parts, a single large monolithic stone capped with a smaller headstone, each figure exudes a distinct personality. But rather than feel weighed down by this iconic symbolism, these mythic beings towering above the viewer remain open and welcoming, their rough-hewn surfaces evoking not brittle dogma but the billowing garments of a healer. Originally composed using smaller limestone maquettes, the artist has scanned and enlarged them in cast bronze capturing the more intimate attributes of the studies and creating an uncanny balance of finely textured forms and towering proportion. They are ecstatic, they move in their stillness stirred by the same winds favoured by Baroque artists. The power embedded in stone has been a focus of Rondinone for nearly a decade, first seen in his well-known monumental installation human nature at the Rockefeller Plaza in 2013 and seven magic mountains in the Nevada Desert in 2016. In these ambitious works as with the 'nuns + monks' the artist has invested the stone with a measure of faith, in what he has called its 'innate beauty and energy, its structural quality, its surface texture, and its ability to collect and condense time.'
This awareness of stone's ability to both retain and radiate time also informs a subtle but profound intervention the artist has made in the gallery itself. While a viewer might not immediately register the change as their focus is directed on the five large sculptures, Rondinone has painted the walls so that the walls and floor appear as a single contiguous concretous medium. A gesture the artist has employed in earlier installations, this all-over transformation of the gallery's surfaces not only redefines the horizon— erasing the separation of floor and wall for example—but seems also to suggest a state of becoming, a chrysalis wherein the space itself is in flux, and that mirrors the frozen metamorphoses in the rocks. In so doing, the energy that emanates from 'nuns + monks' throws both the viewer and the sculpture into a shared, inchoate emergence.
This sensitive orchestration of recording time is also at play in Rondinone's companion exhibition in Busan. Here too the artist has made a subtle intervention into the space, covering the large wall of windows that fronts the gallery with a grey UV filter. This slight tuning of the room's light spectrum has the effect of cooling the space, as if shaded by cloud cover. This allusion to weather is apt, as the gallery is devoted to a suite of seventeen paintings depicting sunset at the artist's home in Mattituck on Long Island, New York. Titled after this domestic location, the 'Mattituck' paintings are modest in scale and painted using watercolour on canvas; using a wide palette but one that is limited to three colours in each work, Rondinone captures the delicate moment of sundown, when the sun slips below the horizon. By narrowing the chromatic range of these works to complementary hues, the artist is able to make discernible images that are nevertheless optically charged, conveying some of the magic of this special hour. In this they share a lineage with other painting series such as Rondinone's 'cloud' and 'sun' paintings both of which also share the titling convention the artist uses for his 'Mattituck' wherein the title records the day and year of its completion.
Ugo Rondinone has for nearly forty years made visually stunning work that invites the viewer to renew their senses, becoming more sensitive to the resonances of nature that surround them. In so doing his work serves as a testimony and a balm to those who may be grieving the impermanence of things. Walking across the threshold of the filtered entrance in Busan, the viewer is confronted with a long line of sunsets, as if watching time repeat itself, an almost unbearable testament and a profound meditation on what the artist calls 'the living universe,' where his work records the elemental features of nature, 'this season, this day, this hour, this sound in the grass, this crashing wave, this sunset, this end of the day, this silence.'1
Press release courtesy Kukje Gallery.