Strange Gusts and Aluminum Giants from Ugo Rondinone


Poets and artists have long given voice and shape to the incongruous—seeking to make sense of it, or simply to underscore its mystery. Some, like Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, manage to do both, turning the absurd into a kind of de facto logic, and vice versa, primarily through visual means. Still, language, sound, and a penchant for the lyrical often figure prominently in Rondinone’s work.

Big Mind Sky, Rondinone’s latest exhibition, for example, incorporates several poems by the artist, stenciled on the walls between a series of small-scale paintings in graphite and white gesso. “I-want-to-be-air-or-wind-to-be-at -ease-in-outer-space -but-in-the-world” reads one hermetic text, the reference to wind echoed in the actual air that blows out at unsuspecting viewers from a keyhole sculpture on the back wall.

In juxtaposition to these enigmatic texts, the paintings are quite mundane, recording daily snippets of landscape and architecture gleaned by the artist through various windows on his travels, as well as objects from his studio. But the vagaries of mood and outlook that attended their making is in full evidence: in the myriad vantage points Rondinone conveys (exterior and interior, close-up and panorama); the choice of imagery (empty windows, solitary trees, busy streets); and their stylistic variations, ranging from the quick and minimal to the florid and wobbly. Each painting contains on its backside a collage of newspaper clippings from the date of its execution, hidden from the viewer like a secret door to some parallel existence.

Looming among these lilliputian meditations of the everyday are 12 cast-aluminum gentle giants whose goofy grins, oblong heads, and finger-stroked surfaces were originally modeled in clay. Standing nearly nine feet tall on plinths of old, weathered wood, these friendly monster-heads look like a cross between Nordic folklore masks and the cutesy characters of Where the Wild Things Are. Full of mythic aura, and yet about as portentous as a potato, they proclaim once again that inexplicable link between the ordinary and the extraordinary, the empirical and the strange. If it all seems a bit fuzzy, Rondinone, the poet-conjurer, would have it no other way.