When driving through the desert for hours with nothing interesting to see but flat, dry shrubbery strewn, brown landscape with large brown hills in the distance, the last thing you expect to see is Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains. It’s his psychedelic Art Installation of seven stacks of painted limestone boulders, some reaching up to 35 feet high. Needless to say, the insta-famous artwork was our premier stop during our recent trip to Las Vegas.
The artist Ugo Rondinone, Italian and originally born in Switzerland resides in Harlem, New York. He is renowned for his mixed-media artwork and his sculptures and installations in various parts of the country, which tend to bring in an element of fantasy to their mundane surroundings. His works often play a mental game with its viewer, abstracting reality, like his 2013 Stonehenge-like rock installation in Rockefeller Center in New York called “Human Nature” which resembled robots to his large rainbow signs displaying whimsical yet provocative messages in bubble rainbow colored lettering displayed around various parts of the world like “Hell, Yes!”, “Everyone Gets Lighter”, “Love Invents Us” or “Breath Walk Die”. I especially love his Moonrise Sculptures installed amongst downtown San Francisco’s high rise buildings. Humorous yet dark and emotive head sculptures bringing such lightness to a dull atmosphere.
Seven Magic Mountains, Funded by the Art Production Fund, the Nevada Museum of Art and the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, is similar to his past works as it causes us to be perplexed and awed at the audacity at first. However, as you marinate in the piece, walk around the structures while gazing out into the surrounding landscape of both the natural wonder of the expansive desert on one side, and the cars whizzing by on Interstate I-15 freeway and occasional passing of freight trains beyond on the other, a deeper understanding its meaning begins to take place. To me, Las Vegas is such a strangely remote locale, it almost feels as though the city doesn’t belong there. The quiet and calmness of such far stretches of minimally developed land, a two lane freeway stretching for miles on end leading into one of the most sensational and opulent metropolitan areas in the world – it’s all so jarring. I believe that Rondinone’s installation represents that friction in art form. His choice to use such vibrant, unnatural colors amongst the subtle desert palette conveys that he is being intentional about the disconnect. The piece being absolutely beautiful on its own, but particularly unattractive in its surroundings. It’s thought provoking and uncomfortable, and similar to his past works – which is so brilliant.
MuSEEum kids were eager to walk in to get a closer look at the colorful rocks we had been pointing out from the car on the long stretch of flat road from a mile or two away. It was more crowded than I had anticipated, perhaps it was the time of the morning, but as mentioned it’s an Instagram hotspot for artsy photos and selfies. Grander than imagined, the kids were walking through the pillars in wonder touching and gazing then immediately after picking out their favorite stack. Although their minds each changed on their selections 3-4 times throughout the course of our visit, once they were certain of the final favorites my daughter insisted that we take a photo of her hugging the favored. Of course my son soon followed with hugs and “aww”s. Impressed by the balancing ability of these rocks, we challenged the kids to create their own miniature rock sculptures using found stones nearby. They were eager to participate, especially my son who really got into it and started making multiple stacks of his own. He has been really blossoming recently, showing his creative side and it’s been so exciting to witness. I was thoroughly impressed with the results.
We let the kids wander around nearby as we took pictures and walk around ourselves. They were busy collecting sticks and playing pretend games around the shrubbery and sculptures. It made me think about how kids really don’t need much to have a great time, and how kids truly thrive in natural surroundings in so many different ways – mentally, creatively, physically and spiritually. By the time we were ready to head back to the car, my daughter had in hand a carefully curated set of interesting looking stones for her rock collection.
Thank you Ugo Rondinone and believers of public art who made this happen, it enriches us all as a community.