Two major exhibitions of Swiss born, NYC based artist Ugo Rondinone close this week in Manhattan. In both exhibits, Rondinone presents the viewers with large groupings of bluestone stacked together to create figures ripped straight from books of JRR Tolkien’s famed Lord of the Rings. The larger of the two installations, supported by the Public Art Fund, is located at Rockefeller Center between 49th and 50th St.
The presence of these large stone figures is at first unsettling, as their larger than life scale is accentuated by the diminutive comparison of the people standing in and around these sculptures, and yet they are also dwarfed by the very skyscrapers that surround them. There is more to the exhibit than the scale that impacts individuals. Indeed, there is a is an underlying mythical and spiritual subtext that is greatly enhanced by an art deco mural that features a god like creature greeting you at the entrance to Rockefeller Center.
Downtown, in the Chelsea art district, Rondinone has presented a much more intimate display of similar stone figures. The Gladstone Gallery, on West 21st Street between 10th and 11th avenues, has done an excellent job of creating an environment where the viewer’s sole focus is on the work of Rondinone’s sculptures. Every last inch of the gallery walls are painted with a nearly identical feel to the bluestone sculptures in the room.
There are nearly fifty of these stone figures filling the gallery, each a varied size and shape. The space takes on a meditative air, almost like a sanctuary or a place of worship. This series of work also seems to be a personal statement for the artist, with his Swiss-mountain roots calling out in an echo from within every large rock. Both the scale and material used garners respect and should be taken seriously, but with Rondinone’s usual wit, he makes these large rock men feel more like benign brutes rather than fearful gods.