Ugo Rondinone dances with Hodler and Vallotton in Geneva

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Ferdinand Hodler, “Warrior with Halberd”, “Young warrior holding a spade with two hands” and eight more pillars 1895-1896, “Rhythmic space” by Ugo Rondinone, photo Stefan Altenburger

“When the Sun goes down and the Moon goes up” is the title of a new event show at Geneva’s Musée d’Art et d’Histoire curated by Ugo Rondinone. After the German painter Jakob Lena Knebl in 2021 and theFrench curator Jean Hubert Martin in 2022, Marc Olivier Wahler, the director of the museum, has given a “carte blanche” to the Swiss artist to play with the collections of the museum which include 800 000 objects and works of art. After working at the University of Michigan Museum and at Palais de Tokyo, Wahler promised to wake up MAH which many Swiss people have never heard of or never visited. And with his third “XL” exhibition, and his long collaboration with Rondinone, he  has a winning ticket. The show makes us rediscover two brilliant Swiss painters who owned works by each other, Felix Vallotton, born in Lausanne,1865-1925, and Ferdinand Hodler, born in Berne, 1853-1918.

“Rhythmic space, Open Sky”, Ferdinand Hodler, 8 paintings of Lake Léman and Lake de Thoune with 11 glass horses by Ugo Rondinone

How does one create modernity with historical paintings? Rondinone had the idea of building concrete columns to hold the Hodler warriors who usually hang on the walls of the staircase and to confront them as soon as you enter the exhibition, is very dramatic. Especially since you then walk into an imaginary dark Hodler “garçonnière”, decorated by interior architect Frédéric Jardin. A bright green living room filled with furniture from different styles and periods, created after Huysmans’ hero Jean des Esseintes, in “A Rebours”, the epitome of symbolist literature.  Wallpaper and velvet curtains were designed by Rondinone. It is immediately followed by a vast paved hall with paintings of the lakes by Hodler and glass contemporary horses who reflect the blues of the water and of the sky. It is joyful and luminous…

Ugo Rondinone presented the exhibition with great modesty

And this is what this exhibition is all about: the contrast between dark and light rooms, between Vallotton’s black and white prints and Rondinone’s sense of color. He has covered every window of the show with pale green, yellow, pink and blue films which slightly change the atmosphere of the space.

Each window is filtered by a colored film chosen by Rondinone

Since we are in Geneva, there is of course a room devoted to clocks, and a sound created especially by Rondinone and Luciano Chessa, “orologerie”, 2023, gives a lively atmosphere to the standing wooden 18 th and 19 th century pendulums. If you visit the show, make sure to open the hidden door in that space and a “secret room” will appear with stainless glass windows and orange and pink clocks of his making.

The door to the secret room only opens when you come near it…

Ugo Rondinone’s input is huge in this show: he not only exhibits his own works, some of which were made especially to mirror the two main artists. He also created a specific ambiance and lighting and he brought out the works from the museum’s collection to enhance their quality. Three rooms are particularly striking, with their traditional boiseries and three of his tortuous landscapes in wood, earth and glue which weigh 2 tons. They were assembled on the spot in one month  and will be destroyed at the end of the show!

Ugo Rondinone, “Tangled landscape”, 2023, courtesy of the artist, photo Stefan Altenburger

The Sun (gold) 2017 and the Moon (silver) 2022, two large circles, are a symbolic passage for the visitor. With the moon shown in a room with stainless glass windows, is exhibited a series of dark Vallotton prints “Intimacies” where the “couple” is being studied in its secret and treacherous moments. In the last room (but it can be the first if you choose to start with Vallotton) large paintings of naked women are lined with a series of preparatory drawings. Interestingly, these are all fac simile copies of the originals printed and framed according to Rondinone’s instructions. Far from being shocking, this is a modern way of showing fantastic studies at no risk for the works.

Felix Vallotton, Four of the seven nudes, photo Stefan Altenburger

The exhibition is not as large as last year’s but it is great fun to see it once and again. The strength of the paintings is proof of the quality of Swiss art which is often underestimated. Of course the rest of the museum is worth a visit with more masterpieces upstairs by Agasse and Liotard. Rondinone was very moving when he declared how proud he was to work in such a fantastic place.

The director of the museum Marc-Olivier Wahler is the force behind this new success

Until June 18, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Genève. The museum is easily accessible by foot from the lake.

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