In The Seventh Hour of the Poem, a solitary giant blue light bulb hangs heavily from the ceiling but, despite its visual association with a domestic mass-produced appliance, illuminates nothing. This absurd uselessness echoes amongst Rondinone’s seemingly heteroclite body of works in the sense that they all share the strange combination of “melancholy and escapism, stretching beyond the concerns of the everyday and yet mired within it, tirelessly navigating unfamiliar worlds of their own making” (Gilda Williams, “Gravity Rainbow” in Exhibition Catalogue, London, Whitechapel Gallery, Ugo Rondinone: Zero Built a Nest in My Navel, 2006, p. 283).
Paradoxically immense and yet ethereal-looking, The Twenty-Four Hours of the Poem were cast in Styrofoam filled with polyurethane resin then coated with a thick layer of clay, before being painted with twenty-four shades of pantone coloured wax, one for each hour of the day – the day being the incarnated form of the poem.
Both referential and non-referential, Rondinone’s use of language infuses his works with his ontological poetry which, together with the persona of the artist himself, often described as ‘a lone wolf’, ultimately brings to mind the aimless but emotionally charged strolls of existentialist anti-heroes. This association is further heightened by Rondinone’s choice of title for an exhibition in which an Hour of the Poem was on display, The Night of Lead at the Aargauer Kunsthaus, which borrows its title from Hans Henny Jahnn’s Die Nacht aus Blei. In Jahnn’s 1962 novel, the nameless protagonist, an ordinary man, is in the grip of surrealist events because of which his only remaining certainty is his bodily existence.
The current lot, with its play on airiness/gravity, colourful/unlit, functional/useless demonstrates Rondinone’s remarkable mastery of dichotomies through an incessant questioning of what is taken for granted. The essential components of the artist’s practice, such as the element of time, language and melancholy, are all present in The Seventh Hour of the Poem, unquestionably placing this lot at the very highest point of his creative production.
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