Magazine article Artforum International

Ugo Rondinone

Magazine article Artforum International

Ugo Rondinone

Article excerpt

In his 1960 novel, La noia (Boredom), Alberto Moravia blamed the existential ennui of postwar Europe on a reality that had grown patently absurd. For Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, too, reality's failings are at the heart of our present-day malaise, which he wholeheartedly accepts as an aspect of the human condition. Taking this premise as his point of departure, Rondinone creates mixed-media installations that run the gamut of artistic genres and techniques - including landscape drawing, abstract painting, photographic portraiture, realist sculpture, and video - and reflect the belief that the artist's role is to reinvent reality rather than just mediate it. To this end, he often takes his own subjectivity as an artist as a starting point, in part embracing, in part resisting bourgeois notions about the artist as clown/entertainer, as marginalized visionary, or as conduit for the sublime. In his installations, he exposes the mechanisms of style, technical bravado, and presentation as aesthetic contrivances, which, like language for Samuel Beckett, may be worn-out and trite but remain the artist's only means of coming to terms with the alienating forces of our technology-driven times.

For his first one-man show at the Galerie Walcheturm in Zurich, in 1991, Rondinone made a series of sketches of the Swiss countryside in an idealized style reminiscent of early nineteenth-century plein-air painting. He then enlarged the notebook-size originals to a monumental scale by projecting a photographic negative of each drawing onto a huge sheet of paper and copying, in ink, the negative image. Before hanging the enormous, framed landscapes, Rondinone covered the gallery's large picture window with whitewashed planks, which blocked out most of the natural light, exaggerating the artificiality of the environment and heightening the contrast between his highly stylized depictions of nature and their "true-to-life" scale.

Rondinone's interest in provoking confrontations between the real and the artificial also informs his more complex installations, which owe much to the artist's early dabbling in performance art. (Before he began his studies at Vienna's Hochschule fur angewandte Kunst in 1986, he did a short stint working with Hermann Nitsch and his Orgies Mystery Theater.) The influence of performance was most apparent in one of Rondinone's first institutional exhibitions ("dog days are over"), in 1996, at Zurich's Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, where he created an installation that brought together live actors, sound, painting, and video and took the figure of the clown as its centerpiece. At the show's opening, several paunchy, middle-aged men made up as clowns lounged lazily on the floor of one of the museum's galleries, moving only to change position or to yawn. Fits of hysterical laughter could be heard from hidden speakers activated by sensors whenever a visitor entered. (For the rest of the exhibition's run, the clowns were replaced by their videotaped likenesses on monitors set up precisely where each clown had sat.) On the walls behind the clowns, Rondinone spray-painted huge blurry "targets," series of concentric circles that were color-coded to match the giddy combinations of blue, orange, brown, green, and yellow used in the clown's costumes and makeup.

If the ensemble's initial effect was carnivalesque, with time, a creeping sense of unanswered expectations, boredom, and emptiness took over. …

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