Ugo Rondinone rose to international acclaim in the early 1990s with highly varied work. The Swiss-born artist produces paintings, drawings, sculpture (large and small), photography, video, and sound and installation art. He is also a poet, collector and curator.Read More
Born to Italian parents in Brunnen, Switzerland in 1964, Rondinone moved to Zurich in his late teens to work for multimedia artist Hermann Nitsch. Later he studied art at the Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna from 1986 to 1990.
Since the 1980s the German Romantic movement has been a primary point of reference for his work, focusing on the relationship between the natural world and the human condition, and nature's sublime.
In 1998 Rondinone moved to New York City, where he has lived and worked ever since. It was there that he met his longtime partner the famed writer, poet and performer, John Giorno. Their relationship, which continued until Giorno's passing in 2019, was highly influential on Rondinone's art.
Ugo Rondinone artworks are meditations on the world and everyday life, that reflect particularly on the theme of time and, blur boundaries between what is real and artificial. Avoid making art that is intellectually complex Rondinone works with basic familiar imagery.
In Rondinone's practice, rainbows are one of the most common motifs. From 1997, he began producing lit rainbow signs presenting simple poetic titles and phrases in large characters in the shape and colours of the rainbow. His later large-scale semi-circular 'Rainbow' paintings (2015–2016) continue the motif in acrylic airbrush on canvas and silkscreen on plexiglass.
At once beautiful and fantastical, the rainbow, easily recognised as an LGBT symbol, signifies the freedom to love whomever one wish. It is an especially important symbol for the artist given his affectionate relationship with John Giorno.
In a conversation with Ocula Magazine in 2014, Rondinone claims to work with 'very basic raw symbols, something that everyone can relate to, from a child to an old person, from the East to the West.' The emphasis is on creating engagement through experiencing the work first, rather than a conceptual understanding.
Rondinone's use of Day-Glo rainbow colours extends into many other works. One of the artist's foundational sculptural motifs are his towers of brightly coloured rocks; a motif taken to its greatest heights in works like Seven Magic Mountains in Nevada (11 May 2016–2018). These towering stacks of rough-cut boulders are painted in artificial Day-Glo rainbow hues, as well as silver black, and white. In a press release for the Nevada installation, the artist stated that he sees this combination of artificial colour and natural rock formations as a continuum 'between human and nature, artificial and natural, then and now.'
Not all of Rondinone's art involves bright colours. Another of the artists favoured motifs consists of simple primitive figures, composed of rough-hewn stone blocks evoking man-made formations like Stonehenge. He also makes mask-like sculptures inspired by indigenous Alaskan Yup'ik mask. These aluminium casts made from clay moulds, are painted in a single dull colour.
Another kind of sculpture, yet again in aluminium, is the variety of ghostly olive trees, coated in white enamel that have found their way into public spaces across the globe.
Rondinone is also well known for his mixed-media installations. The artist's exhibitions often present a holistic, total work of art experience. Planned out in detail—with the use of miniature models—Rondinone establishes connections between different works that are enhanced by the colour scheme, generate layout and the architecture of the host gallery space.
Rondione's holistic installations combine various motifs developed throughout his career, creating new meaning through different arrangements. The artist's passive lacklustre clowns, that have appeared in video, life-size sculptures and live performances, have sat in layouts that also feature his floating mandalas, mesmerising and blurry target paintings, and brightly coloured monochrome wall paintings.
In Rondinone's 2021 Vocabulary of Solitude installation for Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, light shines through coloured film installed in the high windows to cast an array of rainbow colours on the variously posed clown mannequins below.
Straddling the divide between gallery and public art, Rondinone has produced numerous large scale artworks for public spaces in cities across the globe. Among these have been Human Nature, a monumental set of stone-henge like figures commissioned for the Rockefeller Plaza by New York's Public Art Fund; the massive, Seven Magic Mountains work in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas, commissioned by the Public Art Production Fund and Nevada Museum Of Art; And The Sun (2017–2018), a massive ring made from golden tree trunks temporarily installed in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles in France.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022