Beginning this summer, grotesque creatures will welcome visitors to the Städel Garden. The Swiss conceptual and installation artist Ugo Rondinone (b. 1964) transforms the prominent hill above the Garden Halls into a strange landscape.
For his group of works “sunrise. east.”, Rondinone assigned a head with characteristic, highly reduced facial features to represent each calendar month. The presentation invites to experience the different joys, adversities and emotions of a whole year in fast forward.
Larger than life and cast in shiny silver aluminium, the massive, two-metre-high sculptural heads are reduced to their facial expressions: With mouths agape, they gaze from small eyes, from friendly and naïve to sceptical, from surprised to eerie. They evoke a wide range of associations, from ritual masks and ghosts to the visual language of comics, emoticons, and memes. Visitors to the Städel Garden are invited to come face to face with all twelve creatures—and thus every month of the year—and to experience the various joys, adversities, and emotions of an entire year in fast forward.
In addition to sculpture, Ugo Rondinone’s oeuvre encompasses various media such as painting, video, and installation. The artist is especially well known for his works in public space, which he has been creating since the 1990s. In the spirit of ‘art for all’, he aims to reach a wide audience with his characteristic outdoor sculptures. In his poetic and conceptual works, Rondinone explores the contradictions of life, creating a dialogue between artificiality and nature, culture and society, eternity and transience.
Svenja Grosser (Deputy Head of Contemporary Art, Städel Museum)
About Ugo Rondinone
Ugo Rondinone was born in 1964 in Brunnen, Switzerland. He studied at the University of Applied Arts Vienna before moving to New York in 1997 and continues to live and work there to this day.
Fundamental questions about human existence and the duality of nature and culture are at the heart of Rondinone’s work. In the artist’s visual cosmos, everyday phenomena and appearances are transformed into existential, philosophical possibilities for reflection. Many of the themes in his work can be traced back to personal experience, such as individual and universal notions of time.
About „sunrise. east.“
With the twelve-part group of works “sunrise. east.”, Rondinone negotiates a central and simple concept of the cyclical recording of time: He assigns one month of the year to each of the heads arranged in a circle and names the sculptures accordingly, from “sunrise. east. january” to “sunrise. east. july” to “sunrise. east. december”. Rondinone allows artificiality and naturalness to merge in the figures. Cast in aluminium, their silvery colour simulates the dew that forms in the morning and is enlivened by the light. Rondinone’s fingerprints are also visible on the surface of the sculptures—evidence of the multi-part production process. The artist modelled each head with clay on a polystyrene core. The concrete bases on which the sculptures stand are casts of weathered barn wood, the grain of which is visible in the concrete.
Taking up Rondinone’s recurring motif of the mask, sunrise. east. evokes associations with totems in archaic cultures, in particular the monumental and legendary Moai stone heads of Polynesian Easter Island. The circular presentation of the group of works in the Städel Garden is also reminiscent of the legendary stone complex of Stonehenge. Despite their mythical appearance, Rondinone’s aluminium heads have a caricature-like quality that refers to the inner world of the visitors, addresses their emotions, and transfers the sculptures to the present.
Many of Rondinone’s ideas and approaches to linking nature, mythology, and everyday moments have proved formative for subsequent generations of artists. While the sculpture of the 2000s is characterised by an explicit artificiality, since 2003 Rondinone has been reflecting on classical materials such as clay and bronze in his group of masks. With an archaic form and a haptic that reveals the work process, he translates cultural and art historical phenomena into the twenty-first century: a unique and meditative visual language that seems to find an echo in current artistic positions.
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Freunde der Tat – Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.