Artist Ugo Rondinone’s Nude exhibition closed yesterday at the Gladstone Gallery in Chelsea, but I felt compelled to post these images since the sculptures have lingered in my mind since I saw them on Wednesday.

Ugo Rondinone’s “nude (xxxx)” (2010) (click to enlarge)

The cast wax human forms look at first like mannequins that have collapsed in the gallery due to exhaustion or perhaps melancholia.

In a Chelsea white box, Rondinone’s forms look lonely. The cool wintery light of December amplified my reaction and as spectators walked by wearing their puffy winter coats, the forms’ nudity made them feel vulnerable.

Last night I was walking under the BQE highway overpass in Williamsburg on my way to a holiday party in Carroll Gardens. I saw a man seated on a car seat bench hidden under a thick blanket who was urinating onto the pavement from where he sat. When I returned later that night the bench had moved about 20 feet — probably in an effort to position himself away from the cold winds — but he was still obviously hidden underneath his giant blanket. As I witnessed this holiday season tragedy all I could think of was Rondinone’s Nudes. I pictured the man’s vulnerability to the elements and himself. The condition of being nude is as much an emotional as a physical state of being, and while there is a difference between nude and naked, the distinctions collapsed in my mind as I saw that man sleeping in the streets. The scene — and Rondinone’s sculptures — represented to me the condition of being human and exposed to the world. The two scenes together made me cry as the art works in my memory amplified the feelings stirred in me by the sight of the homeless man.

Left, “nude (x)” (2010), and, right, “nude (xxxx)” (2010) (click to enlarge)

I didn’t help the man under the blanket, as I remember being paralyzed with my own visceral reactions, unable to act, though I admit to never knowing how to react when confronted with such disparity.

Rondinone’s seven wax figures have no narrative, only symbolic meaning. They became a prism for me to see the world of that man on the bench last night and they made me feel connected for a moment to him as I felt our fragile state of being human.

Ugo Rondinone’s Nude was on display at Gladstone Gallery from November 6 to December 23, 2010.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

4 replies on “Ugo Rondinone’s Nudes Made Me Feel Exposed”

  1. Just saw this interesting post by Jordan at Public Ad Campaign about how he interacted with a homeless person. so thought I’d mention it here.

    Hopefully that guy you saw managed to make it to a shelter, because I fear for him in this weather if he didn’t. 🙁

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