Ugo Rondinone - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 7, 2024 | Phillips

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    "His love was passion’s essence - as a tree
    On fire by lightning; with ethereal flame
    Kindled he was, and blasted." 
    —Lord Byron, 'Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage'


    Standing at an impressive eighteen feet in height, Ugo Rondinone’s for what? for space and stars is at once all-encompassing and engaging. Defying any single perspective, the viewer is encouraged to survey close and afar the intricacies of the tree’s form: a symbol for Rondinone that is autobiographical and existential. Gnarled knots meander into spindly branches, frozen between agitation and quiescence.


    Born in Brunnen, Switzerland in 1964 to Italian parents, Rondinone’s lineage is a fundamental foundation of his practice. His father was raised in Matera, an ancient city of Basilicata with Paleolithic cave settlements, first revealed to Rondinone at seven during an annual visit to his grandmother. Though now a source of pride, Rondinone admits ‘as a kid, I hid my origins’.Therefore, the tree, since emerging in Rondinone’s work with landscape drawings from 1989 and installations from 1996, is autobiographical. for what? for space and stars is among a series of trees cast from 2000-year-old olive species located in Rondinone’s orchard near Matera: a witty pun in the absence of a family tree and any ‘records’, to represent his family’s heritage spanning some 9000 years.ii


    While indicative of Rondinone’s personal past, for what? for space and stars also engages more universally with the fabric of human existence, in accordance with the iconography and philosophy of 18th and 19th century Romanticism. Rondinone first explored the movement through arcadian ink drawings inspired by Romantic painters Rodolphe Bresdin, Samuel Palmer, and particularly German artist Caspar David Friedrich. Parallel to the Romantics reverence of natural forces, Rondinone conceived his tree casts with ecological concerns in mind. As a species protected by Italian law, the trees were cast on site with rubber and still bear olives.


    Samuel Parker, Ancient Trees, Lullingstone Park, 1828, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. Image: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1977.14.308

    Constructed in aluminium and white enamel, the bare, alabaster branches of for what? for space and stars, resemble the Romantic trope of the ‘blasted tree’: a symbol that usually represents the cycle and passions of life, from birth to death. Bearer of the elements’ wrath, while a key source of nutrients in the Mediterranean diet, the olive tree’s shape memorialises and is integral to human experience. Between 2006 and 2009 Rondinone made six different molds of the olive trees growing on his land, working directy from the rooted trees to avoid damaging them. Creating  aluminium casts which he then finished in a matt white polyurethane paint, the scupltures have a ghostly and deeply poetic quality, meditating on the passing of time, memory, and history.


    Rondinone in this way, like in Rachel Whiteread’s Poltergeist, attempts to materialise the lapsing, perpetual advance of time. Aesthetically and conceptually comparable, both combine the formal language of minimalism with natural materials to stand as testaments for earthly experience. In Rondinone’s words, his tree casts ‘become a memoriam of condensed time […] frozen in its given form’.iii


    Installation view of Rachel Whiteread: Internal Objects at Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, London, April 12-June 2021. Image: Prudence Cuming Associates. Courtesy Gagosian, Artwork: © Rachel Whiteread

    Collector’s Digest


    • Living and working in New York, Ugo Rondinone is among the generation of innovative Swiss artists like Pipilotti Rist and Thomas Hirschhorn born during the 1960s. After first exhibiting in 1985, a year later Rondinone attended the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, launched into the European art scene during the early 1990s.


    • Often employing natural form and totemic scale, For what? For space and stars is one of the largest tree casts, spanning over five metres in height. Since his first tree installation in 1996, Rondinone’s tree have been imagined in a range of mediums like stone, resin, dried flowers and aluminium.


    • Alongside representing Switzerland in the Venice Biennale with Urs Fischer in 2007, Rondinone has been the subject of major solo exhibitions internationally including at the Whitechapel Gallery (London, 2006); Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney, 2003) and the Kunsthalle Vienna (2002).



    i Ugo Rondinone quoted in David Colman, ‘The Real Rock of Ages,’ The New York Times, 3 May 2013, online.

    ii Ugo Rondinone quoted in David Colman, ‘The Real Rock of Ages,’ The New York Times, 3 May 2013, online.

    iii Ugo Rondinone quoted in, ‘Press Release: Ugo Rondinone – Art on the Plaza’, Creativetime, New York, 2007, online.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009

    • Exhibited

      León, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León; Aarau, Aargauer Kunsthaus, Ugo Rondinone – The Night of Lead, 11 July 2009-1 August 2010, pp. 90-91, 322-323, 376 (another example exhibited and illustrated, pp. 90-91)
      New York, IBM Building, A Day Like This, Made of Nothing and Nothing Else, 2010 (another example exhibited)

    • Literature

      Laura Hoptman, Erik Verhagen, Nicholas Baume and Jason Schmidt, Ugo Rondinone, London, 2022, pp. 92, 158 (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, León, 2009, installation view, another example illustrated, p. 92)


for what? for space and stars?

white enamel on cast aluminium
520 x 510 x 480 cm (204 3/4 x 200 3/4 x 188 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2009, this work is number 3 from an edition of 3 plus 1 artist’s proof.

Full Cataloguing

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £400,050

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2024