Ugo Rondinone: the Night of Lead

Museo de Arte
Contemporáneo de
Castilla y Léon (Musac)
11 July-10 January 2010

Swiss-born, New York-based artist Ugo Rondinone’s only museum show of 2009 is also his solo debut in Spain. Curated by Augustín Pérez Rubio, Musac’s acting director, “The Night of Lead” occupies 2,500 sq. m of the museum’s spaces dedicated to temporary exhibitions. The show encompasses many aspects of the artist’s eclectic practice—with sculpture, painting, video, collage and installation—and is arranged in five rooms of more than 50 objects. “He’s never shown anything in Spain, so that’s why it’s such a huge presentation,” Mr Rubio told The Art Newspaper.

The overriding theme is that of fantasy, poetry and ritual, and the exhibition begins with an installation of six ancient olive trees, painted white. This is a new version of Get up girl a sun is running the world, shown at the Venice Biennale in 2007 when Rondinone represented Switzerland along with fellow Swiss artist Urs Fischer. Because of the generous scale of Musac’s exhibition spaces, the gnarly trees reach up to 4.5 metres in height, compared to the 3-metre forms in Venice. In the centre a giant sculpture of a light bulb hangs from the ceiling, and strong white light fills the room to create the sensation of “white night”, says Mr Rubio.

In another room Rondinone is showing his Star paintings, a brand new series of 13 works, all around 4 metres by 3 metres. “He wants to install them altogether as a tribute to Rothko’s Chapel,” Mr Rubio told TAN. “Each painting is like a cosmos, showing the stars by night. He wanted to create the feeling of night and loneliness, and in the middle of the room is the sculpture of a clown laying on the floor. For Ugo, the idea of the clown is somebody who looks human but is also a creation, you never know if it’s a man or a woman, it’s like a human being in process.”

In the final room is (John’s fireplace), a 2008 installation showing a replica of US poet John Giorno’s fireplace from his apartment in New York). Poetry is a strong influence on Rondinone, and the show here weaves together disparate elements that build up poetic layers of symbolism and personal narrative, at times menacing, at times more gentle and dreamlike.

On a different register, one of Rondinone’s bright, resoundingly positive rainbow sculptures, 2001 Hell, Yes!, currently adorns the façade of the New Museum, New York (installed to mark the opening of the museum in January 2007), on display until 19 July.

This article was published in The Art Newspaper, July/August 2009, p55. To view it in context, click on the PDF link below

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