Ugo Rondinone (1964) is one of the star artists on the global contemporary art scene. The Swiss national is represented by six galleries around the world. He works primarily in the fields of sculpture and video, playing with materials and their symbolism across various styles. Until the start of January one of his remarkable videos was on show, among others, at the Petit-Palais in Paris, documenting a trance with a hypnotic rhythm.
Up until September 2022 in Venice, at the Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista, he exhibited a series of sculptures decorated with clouds hanging in the hair, which were less convincing.
Beautiful Carte blanche
But his new work, having returned to the country of his birth, is a “carte blanche” at the Musée d’art et d’histoire de Genève (MAHG), a local museum with an encyclopaedic mission, and it is a great success. It’s really beautiful. He has orchestrated a display of pieces from the collections in dialogue with his own oeuvre. We can interpret it as a voyage through a sensual, rich Geneva from the late 19th century. Rondinone has already demonstrated his abilities as a curator on several occasions.
In 2007 at the Palais de Tokyo he assembled a remarkable selection of contemporary art around his own collection. In 2016, at the same site, he orchestrated a hymn to the love of his partner, who has since died, the poet, artist and performer John Giorno (1936-2019), in a brilliant display that stretched across all the spaces.
Taking advantage of the architecture
In Geneva, on the ground floor of the museum, he takes advantage of the architecture and the collections simultaneously. Noting the symmetry of the building, he stages a circular exhibition layout that moves between the two stars of modern Swiss painting: Felix Vallotton (1865-1925) and Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918). The first was passionate about the women he depicts here, on a very large scale, with shadow effects that make the compositions seem verging on surreal.
Hodler and death
Hodler, for his part, is celebrated for having followed and documented his partner in paint as she was dying. A room is reserved for his drawings on the subject. At the time the image of dead bodies was less taboo than it is today. See Marcel Proust’s famous death mask. Ugo Rondinone tells us that he himself immortalized the face of John Giorno.
The MAHG opens the part of the exhibition dedicated to Hodler with impressive large-scale paintings of medieval knights, arranged throughout the vast space. For the two heroes of Swiss painting, Rondinone has also created “period rooms” of the interiors, which can be visited like cabinets of curiosities and include tables and trinkets, bearing witness to their aesthetic and their hypothetical loves, too.
Fluid sexual relations
Ugo likes to think sexual relations were very fluid in the late 19th century. A voyage through time, like out of a film. But the most beautiful room in this exhibition is made up of the landscapes around Lake Geneva painted by Hodler.
Shades of blue
In shades of blue, they are characterized by a deep serenity and are displayed in dialogue with small sculptures of horses cast from translucent azure glass created by the contemporary artist two years ago. Each horse is cut in two, as though to create its own landscape, with a horizon line at the heart of the sculpture. Each one is named after a different sea.
This meditative promenade moves from darkness to light, from richness to sparseness, like a series of inhalations and exhalations, marked by love as well as death.
We follow Ugo Rondinone via video as he gives us the privilege of a guided visit to the exhibition.
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