Ugo Rondinone: Letting Sleeping Clowns Lie

Jun 24, 2013 8:08PM

"The clown is an invention of high nobility to push away boredom and melancholy out of the court." - Ugo Rondinone

If There were Anywhere but Desert. Friday, 2002, is an extract from the larger, seven-part series by Swiss-bornUgo Rondinone, in which he represents the days of the week with unique, motionless figures. It epitomizes Rondinone’s fervent desire to translate, through vibrant and bold imagery, conflicted psychological states into environments that provoke corresponding moods in the viewer. The clown has here been divested of its power as an entertainer, and is instead confined to lie on the floor as a flabby, mute and quasi-static figure, imparting an overwhelming sense of alienation to the viewer, leaving us feeling disconnected from our usual terms of reference – our usual selves.

An arguable effigy of the artist as a public entertainer, the clown figure is further used by Rondinone as a way to articulate a melancholy sense of loss. Portrayed as lethargic and worn-out, the clown is rendered in such a way as to suggest that he is altogether stripped of the freedom and ability to fulfil his role of the trickster or fool – an archetype identified by psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose sole function is to serve the audience’s need for distraction.

This immobilization of the clown creature, and disclosure as a figure in a state of near-inertia, is significant in communicating a loss of creative melancholia, for as Rondinone himself explains: "The clown is an invention of high nobility to push away boredom and melancholy out of the court. At the same time it functions as a substitute: it has freedom of speech his masters don’t have. On the other hand my clowns do not move. They only sit or lie down, do not laugh, do not say either good day or good night. By its absence of demonstration and its disinterest in the outside world, the character of the clown is possibly a self-portrait. He leads to a melancholy empty of meaning, which perpetuates itself in the vacuity of a world without irony" (The artist quoted in The Aesthetics of Disengagement: Contemporary Art and Depression , Christine Ross, Minneapolis, 2006, p.45). Indeed, the melancholic clown, as the modern alter ego of the artist, takes its tragic fate from the very fact of not being seen.

The clown is a recurrent figure in Rondinone’s oeuvre and has, since 1992, made ceaseless appearances in his performances, installations, videos, Polaroids, and sculptures. Certainly, Rondinone can be placed amongst other twentieth-century artists such as Mauricio Cattelan, Roni Horn and Cindy Sherman, whose works of art similarly demonstrate an interest in the figure of the clown, and its metaphorical potential regarding representation and self-representation. In particular, Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture of 1987, a work which Rondinone quoted in his previous installation Where do we go from here?, also refers to a communicational break between clown and viewer. Nauman’s clowns, however, are animated, and presented as still possessing their role of an entertainer whose main function is to make its audience laugh – an aspect which is in stark contrast to those by Rondinone, who in having lost all facility to amuse, render the viewer’s presence as somewhat obsolete and unnecessary.

Ugo Rondinone's If There were Anywhere but Desert. Friday, 2002, will be offered in our Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 27 June 2013, in London.