August 7, 2013

"thank you silence." Ugo Rondinone in M - Museum Leuven

Ugo Rondinone, the river, 2011. © studio rondinone

I made a detour to M - Museum Leuven on my way back to Brussels airport, Belgium. It was the third time that I visited the museum and each time I am impressed by the exhibitions on contemporary art in this relatively new museum. Curator is Eva Wittocx and she has an amazing exhibition space to work with. That definitely eases the curatorial job yet Wittocx has, on top of it, a great, generous way of playing with these huge spaces. Her exhibitions - up till now I saw Dirk Braekman, Sol LeWitt and Ugo Rondinone - don’t clutter. They leave space around the exhibited art pieces. And that also counts for the spectator. Eva Wittocx’s exhibitions make you breath.  

That might sound like mindfulness, and why not. The exhibition on the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone with the beautiful title thank you silence made me think of lines that I recently read in Kurt Schwitters’ Literarische Werke. In an autobiographical text “About me by myself” of 1929:  “If any one asks me why I go on living in this mad-house, I can give him the same answer as to the question why I have visited that museum where “the lemon trees bloom”: in order to observe and to register. Ecco.” Ugo Rondinone’s exhibit in Museum M gives the spectator an hour of splendid “Ecco” (in translation this latin word seems to have an exclamation mark added: See! Behold!). At least an hour in my case (airplane was waiting) but the after effect was much longer. Kurt Schwitters about the purpose of art in “Merz”, 1920: “Art is a primal concept - sublime as divinity, inexplicable as life, indefinable and pointless.”

Exhibition view Ugo Rondinone, 2013, M - Museum Leuven © Dirk Pauwels

Ugo Rondinone made new works for thank you silence: hanging, standing and leaning landscapes. These landscapes are enormous chunks of earth, which are hanging, standing and leaning - like humans do (except for the hanging, I guess, although as a figure of speech, “I’m hanging”). These landscapes are shown in combination with Rondinone’s sculptural series nude: hyper-realistic human figures (without clothes of course, yet with what seems to be a swimming cap on the head). These statues are in a seated position on the floor, and they are resting, taking a break from what Schwitters called the insane asylum that is our world. The figures all seem to have a moment of inner peace and stillness. There is only being. And isn’t that the only way to reach the state of no noise? (about the impossibility of silence, see John Cage).

The exhibition starts, however, with small sculptures of birds - many birds occupying the front space, not flying, but like the nudes squatting on the floor. And it is hard not to imagine the chirping that goes with them. The birds have names like “the water”, “the thunder”.”the river”, “the mountain” and “the storm”. Indeed, not “Rain”, “Summer” or “River” (Phoenix). The definite article is included. In the middle of these natural phenomenons there is another one, which did not take the form of a bird but came as an installation titled thank you silence: a kind of snow machine up in the air that has thrown little white paper cuts on the floor. True, also snow can create a situation of absolute silence.

Ugo Rondinone's exhibition finishes with the sun. In the top room of museum M, after climbing quite some stairs, one enters a space with a huge grey concrete rectangle form (or square... so huge, I couldn’t see) suspended in the air. One can slip underneath it to get into its center. The inside is decorated with children drawings of the sun -  a cooperation of Ugo Rondinone with children of Leuven. A mantra that my friend Stefano told me a long time ago, came to mind: “Imagine you are surrounded by a bubble of white light and all the negativity just gets absorbed by this bubble and transformed into pure love, that is the color of gold...”

My newest acquisition: Die Literarische Werke of Kurt Schwitters!

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