Ugo Rondinone

Galleria Rondinone

The title of Ugo Rondinone’s installation, Moonlight and Aspirin, 1997, was well—suited to his surreal, psychologically complex work. In one room of the gallery, the walls were almost entirely hidden by a palisade of rough fir boards, except in places here and there where small loudspeakers poked through, playing ’60s songs. A sheet of red glass covered the only window that could still be seen, which created a mysterious, claustrophobic atmosphere and precluded any unmediated contact with the outside world.

In the middle of another room, Rondinone installed a barren tree covered with brown packing tape, suggesting a mummy standing in a bizarre, synthetic landscape. An array of loudspeakers hanging from the mummified tree’s branches transmitted the recorded voices of Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski, while the walls were partially covered with gigantic handwritten text that read “I do not live here anymore.” On the walls Rondinone also hung reproductions of familiar fashion images in which the models’ faces had been replaced by his own. The effect was disorienting, not only because one did not immediately register the alterations (which says something about our increasingly passive acceptance of manipulated images), but also because the artist’s expression in the photographs is at once melancholy and ironic, without pointing to a clearly identifiable mental state.

The exhibition concluded with two sets of contrasting drawings. The first featured bucolic landscapes drawn in ink on huge sheets of paper, suggesting enlarged versions of the kind of thumbnail sketches artists make while traveling. Remarkable here is the difference between the gargantuan scale and the apparently spontaneous technique. Even more startling was the second group, a series of small pencil drawings. These precisely traced images of children and teddy bears at first glance recall children’s-book illustration; but further scrutiny reveals that the seemingly innocent figures are engaged in explicit sexual acts, and that some of the boys have disproportionately large, erect penises. The powerful sense of disjunction within the small drawings—and between the two contrasting series—is in every way consistent with Rondinone’s dreamlike universe.

Mario Codognato

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.