Ugo RondinoneThe Sculpture's Creator

photography by Guy Aroch
written by Bill Powers



The abyss, 2015
Zweiternovemberzweitausendundvierzehn, 2014


The new museum hung an exuberant sign on the face of their building exclaiming hell, Yes! Which aptly sums up our feeling towards the sculpture’s creator, Ugo Rondinone. from his silver masks to his stone totems, he continues to engage the public in fresh and unexpected ways.

BP Your summer show at Eva Presenhuber was almost set up like a maze. Do you think of your brick wall paintings as barriers of protection?
UR Each one represents a wall from my former studio. The exhibition has three architectural devices: walls, windows and doors.

BP Is it important for you to dominate the physical surroundings of the viewer?
UR When I started in 1990 with landscape paintings, the gallery windows were always boarded up to make an isolated situation. I like when a space can create its own reality.

BP Are your window paintings a reference to Duchamp’s Fresh Window?
UR All the symbols I use come directly from German romanticism.

BP Your door constructions never actually open, do they?
UR No, they are all isolated doors. I’ve made twenty-six of them, one for each letter of the alphabet, for example, D is Deepest, Dearest, Dream.

BP Let’s talk about your show at Sadie Coles in London.
UR Again three different groups, but all related to the natural world: clouds, waterfalls and mountains.

BP When you say related to the natural world, does that mean from materials found in nature?
UR The mountains are stacks of natural stone painted in DayGlo colors. I think of them as a reaction to the stone figures which I showed at Rockefeller Center in 2013.

BP The same DayGlo colored rocks are part of a larger project, Seven Magic Mountains, which you are working on for the desert outside Las Vegas. UR I was thinking about the progression of Land Art, which traditionally has meant sculpture made to merge into nature. Whatever intervention the artists created would use the natural colors of the environment. In contrast, I wanted to present something unnatural.

BP Why do you think stones are a recurring theme in your artwork?
UR Maybe – in part – because my parents come from a town in Italy called Sassi di Matera which looks like an Escher painting. The lower part of the town is all caves and then on top of them, they built a labyrinth of buildings. In Italian, Sassi di Matera means the stones from Matera.

BP You have an exhibition I love John Giorno at Palais de Tokyo opening in Paris. Is it fair to say that John Giorno is most famous for being the subject of Andy Warhol’s movie, Sleep?
UR Yes, but that was just his fifteen minutes. His value is as an important poet. In 1962-1963 with the influence of Pop Art, he developed a form of found poetry.

BP In the manner of, say, concrete poetry?
UR Of course, there’s surrealist poetry, cut-up poetry. I think John was triggered by Warhol, extracting words and terminology from popular culture. John was also the first poet in New York to start doing readings with a microphone.


Ugo Rondinone portrait by Guy Aroch





BP You have a close personal relationship with him?

UR We have been partners for eighteen years. But we’ve never lived together. We still visit each other.
BP So you don’t have a key to his apartment?
UR Yes, I have a key, but I always ring the doorbell.

BP Do you have a favorite John Giorno text painting?

BP Another archetype that we see repeated in your work is the clown, often a sad clown.
UR They are not sad, simply passive. I don’t project an emotive value onto them. I like clowns because they don’t follow the rules.

BP Sometimes you will split one of your target paintings so the top half sits on the floor like a sunset.
UR Or it could be a tunnel. I stopped making targets about three years ago.

BP When you first began making them, were you aware of Kenneth Noland’s targets?
UR Of course, yes. And Jasper Johns’ target. I am from a generation of the 1980s where there is just recycling: nothing else. BP One of my favorite short poems is by Rene Ricard, who said I’ll never be old / I’ll be young / and then one day / I’ll be gone. Is there a line of poetry that you are particularly fond of?
UR One of my favorite poets is Fanny Howe who wrote Zero Built a Nest in My Navel.

BP You have a spectacular studio. Can you tell us about the building?
UR This space was formerly a Baptist Church. I was driving through Harlem maybe three and a half years ago and came past it with a for sale sign out front. We removed the balcony, but left many of the original details.

BP And you live in this church as well?
UR Yes, I live in the recreation room.

BP Do you agree with John Currin that if you are a good artist it’s almost impossible to get ripped off?
UR Yes, because a good artist is about the mind, not the product he’s giving us.

BP Do you feel a kinship to other Swiss artists, be it Olivier Mosset or John Armleder or Urs Fischer?
UR Until Eva Presenhuber opened her gallery in Zurich in the 1990s, it was very difficult for a Swiss artist to develop a career inside Switzerland. It took going to another country. Mosset and Armleder both went to Paris.

BP I’ve seen older photographs of yours where it is your face superimposed onto a model’s body. What was this project about?
UR It started as an invitation card in 1994. It was just a joke because Photoshop had come out that year.

BP I recently found one of your artist books from 1988. It’s like a kid’s coloring book, only the imagery is highly sexualized and violent.
UR It’s student work I made when I was influenced by Mike Kelley and Jeff Koons, to take a kitschy situation of children’s drawings and turn them into something sinister.

BP How do you define reality?
UR It depends on which angle you look at something. Reality can split up into a thousand moments. You change your reality depending on what you have in front of you.


Ugo Rondinone at his Studio