This is an archive of the ArtCat Zine, 2007-2009. Please visit our new project, IDIOM.

Ugo Rondinone at Matthew Marks

Ugo Rondinone: Big Mind Sky, installation view. Matthew Marks
Gallery, New York, September 13 to October 27, 2007.

Big Mind Sky
Ugo Rondinone
Matthew Marks Chelsea - 522 West 22nd Street New York, NY
15 September - 27 October 2007

Small graphite drawings on gessoed linen bound the gallery walls and twelve substantial sculptures rise from the gallery floor in Ugo Rondinone's exhibition, Big Mind Sky, at Matthew Marks. Upon entering the space, viewers gravitate to the large forms, each a disembodied head set atop a wooden plinth. The heads are reminiscent of Easter Island's great moai and ahu constructions, but whereas the Polynesian statues were erected in formation, facing inland from the coast to survey various island chiefdoms, Rondinone's sculptures are arranged arbitrarily. The sculptures may be considered a response to modernism's cannibalism of the "primitive," but the artist titled the series "Moonrise" and named each of the expressive heads after a month of the year; his ambition, I feel, is more profound.

The "Moonrise" statues are tributes to the moon's presence and power in a time when the moon is most often ignored. She is no longer the deity without whose blessing the crops did not grow, the light by which early hunters saw, a beacon sailors looked to for guidance, or even a potent allegorical symbol. She lost her lustre when we walked on her surface, from 1969 on just one more cold rock in our orbit. What's more, we struggle to see the moon in context. We have so thoughtlessly and thoroughly illuminated our settlements that the night sky is effectively erased, a rusty glow above our cities and suburbs. But in Big Mind Sky, Rondinone's heads grimace, grin, or gape in response to the moon's eastern ascent. Moonrise, East, August whithers, but Moonrise, East, May births through the mouth; for these statues, at least, the primary cycle is still evident. The moon carries on.

Ugo Rondinone: Big Mind Sky, installation view. Matthew Marks
Gallery, New York, September 13 to October 27, 2007.
And carrying on is the substance of Rondinone's "date paintings," the small graphite works that surround the "Moonrise" totems. The subjects are mundane — window shutters, chairs, and miscellaneous studio objects — and provide counterpoise to the grand, sculptural gesture. The drawings mark the passage of time as observed through modest process; each object Rondinone depicts is also a record, a tracing of experience. Walter Benjamin maintained that the thorough contemplation of material objects was one entry into the realm of the "metaphysical-theological." The critic and philosopher believed that this realm was central to art, especially after humanity "advanced," distinguishing ourselves from the rest of experience with our technology and vaunted consciousness. More condemningly put, having overcome our fascination with (and, to some extent, dependence on) the moon, fire, rain, plants and other animals, we only have our products to ponder.

Rondinone includes one sculpture that does not belong to the "Moonrise" series. A metal keyhole is set into the gallery wall. A jet of air blows out of the hole; there is something more on the other side. The sculptures and drawings are the key.

Ugo Rondinone's exhibit, Big Mind Sky, is on view through October 27th, 2007. For more information, contact Matthew Marks Gallery. Images courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.