It’s almost impossible to view the current installation at East Hampton’s Guild Hall and not be cheered by its vivid hues and welcoming tones.
Welcome to the world of “Sunny Days,” Ugo Rondinone’s installation which opened August 10 and will remain on view through mid-October. For this exhibition, Guild Hall has given over all three of its galleries to the Swiss-born artist, and he has used each space to focus on a different medium.
“It’s summertime, so I’m competing with the beach,” Rondinone recently explained as he bustled around Guild Hall while the installation of his work was going on throughout the museum. “I wanted to have something uplifting. I had three rooms, so I chose the trinity of drawing, sculpture and painting.”
As he entered the museum’s Woodhouse Gallery, where eight of his sun paintings had recently been mounted on the walls, he surveyed the overall effect. Each of Rondinone’s vibrant sun paintings consist of concentric circles of bright yellow, white and gold paint. He explains that the paint was applied with a spray gun and where one color merges into another, there is almost a blurred effect. Each painting differs slightly in color order and center circle dimension and together, the pieces create a mesmerizing whole that is phosphorescently bright, thanks to illumination from white neon fluorescent tubes that have been installed around the perimeter of the room’s ceiling.
“I changed some of the configuration in here,” he said. “Normally the light in here is subdued, but I equalized the space with the neon lights.
“It’s about the room itself,” he explained. “It’s not about dramatizing the piece on the wall. It should be a shower of light so you see the daylight colors. It’s also the way you paint … you see now what I saw when I made them.
“No painter paints in the same light you see the painting in. This is the honest presentation.”
The lighting creates a bright, even tone that brings a feel of midday to the space. Because he is, indeed, competing with the beach, there’s no danger of seasonal affective disorder setting in with this exhibition. Rondinone likes the idea that viewers will focus on the eight paintings collectively, as if they were outdoors on a bright summer day.
“It’s hypnotic. Like looking into the sun,” he said, noting that each of painting is titled with the date and often, the time, at which he created them, making the experience even more time specific. Anchoring his work to a set point in his life is something that Rondinone has done for decades in his work.
“It shows time and space,” he explained. “It’s meant to be a diaristic note for the rest of my life. I have done 75 of these paintings since 1989, in 2010 I stopped, and this group will now stay together as a group.”
“The sun paintings are almost like the start of my artistic world,” he added, noting that in 1989, he was living in Vienna, Austria where his most formative artistic years were spent.
Memory is important to Rondinone, who came to the U.S. in 1997 and, as a mixed-media artist, has worked in everything from painting, drawing and photography, to video and sculpture. He’s also drawn to themes and his painting series include stars, clouds and animals.
“Normally, they are all related to nature,” he said. “I have another group of works that look inward, dealing with duality — brick walls with windows that are mirrors, that reflect you, or paintings that are animated by nature that have you looking out.
Whatever the subject, Rondinone wants people to experience his exhibition work as a whole, rather than individual pieces of art on a wall, as if they were stepping into his world rather than simply and passively viewing it from afar.
“It creates for viewers a cocoon, it’s just the art and you and it stops time for that moment,” he said. “If I had a window in this space, I would have covered it. You want as an artist to connect easily with viewers and, like listening to music, give yourself over to it.
“For that, you need to seduce.”
While his sun paintings are, indeed, seductive in that they invite the viewer into his world, so to, do Rondinone’s large, circular sun sculptures of varying sizes that grace the Moran Gallery at Guild Hall. The gilded bronze pieces are mounted throughout the space and viewers will be able to wind around the pieces as if navigating a hedge maze of sorts. Fitting, in that the figures were initially made using locally-sourced grape vines, a material readily available to Rondinone near his part-time home and studio in Mattituck.
Though based primarily in New York City, he’s been in on the North Fork for four years. While he was lured there by friends, he stayed for the sunsets, which were in stark contrast to those of upstate New York where he rented for 14 years and the sun is more prone simply to dropping behind a distant hill as afternoon melds into evening..
“I’m on the Sound. I had never experienced that many sunsets,” he said, noting that he found them all-inspiring. “It’s where I started doing only sunsets. I come every weekend. In summer I stay for three months.”
The third gallery at Guild Hall is the Spiga Gallery, a space adjacent to the Moran Gallery which Rondinone has filled with drawings of suns. But these drawings were not created by the artist himself, but rather young children he has worked with around the world. From Moscow, Shanghai and Berkeley, to Rome and Cincinnati, the locales are diverse and far-flung. But they are also hyperlocal and scattered among the drawings are several that were created by children at schools, daycare centers and afterschool programs across the East End.
“They’re usually ages six to 12,” he explained. “It’s a pleasure to work with children. They are so open and that’s why I pick that age. We’re all doing the artwork together.”
For that reason, Rondinone plans to have a children’s opening so the young artists can bring their parents to see their contribution to “Sunny Days.”
“For some, it’s the first time they’re visiting a museum and just one child might become an artist,” he said.
Ugo Rondinone’s “Sunny Days” is curated by Guild Hall’s Christina Strassfield. The exhibition runs through October 14 at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton. For more information visit guildhall.org or call (631) 324-0806.