Ugo Rondinone is a Swiss-born artist now living in New York. Working in a variety of genres, Rondinone is inspired by the inexhaustible energy of nature. In his work one finds fairy forests, installations with fabulous white trees, figures of birds covered with fingerprints, and giant stone totems – part of the last series in his oeuvre. Ugo Rondinone's latest commission, “Miami Mountain” was created for The Bass, Miami Beach's contemporary art museum, which unveiled the installation in November last year. This work has become an indispensable must see in Miami, and a permanent feature on both tourists’ and residents’ selfies. In this interview, Ugo Rondinone talks with Artdependence Magazine about the start of his career, his fears and achievements, and his attitude to contemporary art and social media.
Ugo Rondinone is a Swiss-born artist now living in New York. Working in a variety of genres, Rondinone is inspired by the inexhaustible energy of nature. In his work one finds fairy forests, installations with fabulous white trees, figures of birds covered with fingerprints, and giant stone totems – part of the last series in his oeuvre. However, Rondinone’s favourite themes are not limited exclusively to nature: the arsenal of his works also includes digitally manipulated photographs, neon rainbows, and perhaps his most famous peaceful giants – the Moonrise sculptures, which can be found on the streets of San Francisco. All of Ugo Rondinone’s works are extremely positive, adjusting the viewer to relaxation and thoughtful observation and meditation.
In 2015, Rondinone created the “Seven Magic Mountains”, an installation of seven neon stone totems painted in artificially bright color, located (until 2018) in the desert outside of Las Vegas. Ugo Rondinone's latest commission, “Miami Mountain” was created for The Bass, Miami Beach's contemporary art museum, which unveiled the installation in November last year. Similar to the sculptures in Nevada, his Miami installation consists of five granite boulders, each coated in a different fluorescent color, and stacked vertically to a total of 12,5 meters (or 42 feet) high. This work has become an indispensable must see in Miami, and a permanent feature on both tourists’ and residents’ selfies.
In this interview, Ugo Rondinone talks with Artdependence Magazine about the start of his career, his fears and achievements, and his attitude to contemporary art and social media.
Artdependence Magazine: When and how did you know that you wanted to become an artist?
Ugo Rondinone: I first wanted to become an art teacher, but instead I became an assistant for an artist at the age of nineteen. The artist’s name was Hermann Nitsch. I am from Brunnen, Switzerland so I moved to Vienna and assisted Hermann Nitsch for the whole year, and then I went to study at the art academy in Vienna. In Switzerland in the ‘80s there were no art schools and I had to go off-road to become an artist. So, I knew that I wanted to become an artist when I was eighteen, not when I was a child.
Ugo Rondinone. cry me a river. neon, acrylic glass, translucent foil, aluminium, 350 x 750 x 10 cm, 1997. Courtesy of the artist.
Ugo Rondinone. fünftermaizweitausendundelf, ink on paper, plexiglass plaque with caption, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.
AD: How would you describe your art?
UR: The main theme of my art is nature, and I take all my inspiration from nature. Whatever symbols I use they are always nature based. And the genre I work in is German romanticism - it is the first movement which included the irrationality, dreams and senses.
AD: How do you find your earlier work: would like to change it, or do you ever think about what you could have done differently?
UR: Today and in the last thirty years it’s important to know what kind of start you had (you gave) for yourself, meaning how you present yourself in the world. In order not to make a mistake by pouring out into the world your first idea, it first has to be thought out.
The first works I presented many years ago were big landscapes. It was in Serra, in the early ‘90s. At that time I had started to work with paintings, very large paintings - landscapes. And at that time landscapes were not fashionable at all. But for me, landscape is always the roots of my work. So, whenever I am irritated or insecure I reflect on my early works on landscapes. It opens the whole perspective for me.
AD: Do you need to explain your art?
UR: What I do when I talk about my art is that I describe it. I describe its different parts, what is the material, what is the subject - but I don’t value it. When you describe you reveal a lot, but the rest is feeling: what you are confronted with when you look at it. The main thing for the public is that they take the time to be confronted. It’s like listening to music. If you confront yourself to the music - you get the biggest benefits. The same is for art: the more you look, the more benefits you get. That means that you are willing to open yourself to it.
AD: What are you afraid of?
UR: I am always afraid that I am not good enough. I believe this is a situation that confronts every artist - insecurity. And every artist is in a constant trial with his work. Because when you see the result - it’s just the top of the iceberg and the rest is this constant monologue you have with yourself.
AD: Please tell us about your latest commission to the BASS museum.
UR: They came and offered me the opportunity to make a public sculpture. This was last year, when I was in the middle of the magic mountains in the Nevada desert. And when I visited Miami for the first time, I saw how flat it is - it didn’t have any mountains. So, I decided to create the first mountain in Miami. It consists of big sized rocks tapped over each other, the way children do balancing rocks, and painted in very aggressive colors. It’s called Miami Mountain.
AD: I guess soon it will be one of the most photographed location in Miami - a selfie spot. How do you react to this kind of popularity?
UR: I am for the maximum distribution of art. It’s the best art education you can give, if you distribute your art as wide as possible. And public art has this quality, it can be seen by everyone, regardless of their background. Everybody can relate to stone, to colors, to its form as a mountain. So, I am very proactive to the idea of Instagram taking it over.
Image ontop: Portrait of artist Ugo Rondinone. Photo © Christian Grund. Courtesy of the artist
Read the full version of the interview in the upcoming print issue of Artdependence Magazine.
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