Ugo Rondinone’s autumn exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ, clouds + mountains + waterfalls, features three new bodies of work. Each extends the artist’s long-running interests in cosmic or natural phenomena and their reformulation in art. Mediating between geological formations and abstract compositions, Rondinone’s Mountain sculptures consist of rocks stacked vertically on concrete plinths, in groups ranging between two and six.
Each stone is painted a different day-glow colour, and the sculptures’ titles refer in Minimalist vein to their component colours. The analogy of a mountain meanwhile invites more ranging and romantic associations. In their vertical arrangements and vivid colours, the works appear precariously poised between monumentality and collapse – seeming both to defy gravity and to depend on it. Combining rugged materiality with colourful abstraction, the objects are equally caught between literalism and metaphor: many harbour a note of anthropomorphism, suggesting figures in different poses and attitudes. As a group, they conjure parallels as diverse as the stacked totems of Barbara Hepworth and the paper cut-outs of Henri Matisse.
Rondinone’s latest Cloud paintings are large canvases painted in gradations of blue. The rectangular fields transform into cloud-like undulations at their upper perimeters. As with the artist’s other ongoing groups of paintings (including his landscapes, mandalas and horizons), these works depict illusionary, immeasurable space while also referring to the precise date of their creation in their titles. Rondinone has remarked that “they form an entity of time and space”, at once universal and finite. Nearly identical yet subtly differentiated by their top edges and colour schemes, the Cloud paintings carry echoes of Modernist abstraction and the visionary seascapes and skies of Romantic visionaries such as Caspar David Friedrich, while also subverting those precursors through their cartoon contours. More immediately, they form a counterpoint to Rondinone’s own series of Brick paintings, which depict solid brick walls in thickly-layered paint. The near-blank surfaces of the Cloud paintings, ethereally painted using a sponge and diluted pigment, offer sites of imaginative potential – just as clouds can seem to resolve into phantasmal images. The third new series in the exhibition consists of Waterfall sculptures – thin, freestanding lines made in clay and cast in raw aluminium, whose minimalist forms evoke jets of water while also bearing the fingerprints of their original modelling.
Rondinone’s paintings and sculptures have frequently referred to primordial phenomena – air, moons, the sun, the cosmos – in their titles or forms. Referring concurrently to the natural world, romanticism and existentialism, his latest works encapsulate a “mental trinity” that has underpinned his art for more than twenty years.
Ugo Rondinone (Swiss, b. 1964) lives and works in New York. He has long embraced a fluid range of forms and media. As a whole, his work constitutes a complex network of responses to social and physical structures. By allowing himself such formal and thematic freedom, Rondinone creates the conditions for an expansive emotional range. His work has become recognised for its ability to channel both psychological expressiveness and profound insight in the human condition and the relationship between human being and nature. Recent solo exhibitions include naturaleza humana, Museo Anahuacalli, Coyoacan, Mexico, 2014; thank you silence, M Museum, Leuven, Belgium, 2013; we run through a desert on burning feet, all of us are glowing our faces look twisted, Art Institute of Chicago, 2013; human nature, Public Art Fund, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, 2013; primitive, Common Guild, Glasgow, 2012; nude, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, 2012; and The Night of Lead (Die Nacht aus Blei), Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, Switzerland 2010. In early 2016, his public outdoor installation, Seven Magic Mountains, will open in the Nevada desert, co-produced by New York’s Art Production Fund and Nevada Museum of Art, Reno (NE).
Ugo Rondinone, clouds + mountains + waterfalls – Sadie Coles HQ – 11 September to 24 October 2015