"Human Nature" by Ugo Rondinone in Rockefeller Plaza

Ugo Rondinone’s stone figures temporarily stand in two New York City locations, yet they feel timeless, as if they existed before the sidewalks and will stand long after we’re gone.

Outside ’30 Rock’, nine massive sculptures range from 16-20 feet. Best enjoyed in the strange quiet of an early New York morning, their imposing presence is hardly diminished by the mid-day flood of tourists (the most common camera poses are the “cool lean” and the “rock hug”). The artist’s choice to minimally cut the stone preserves as much of the weather-worn surface as possible, highlighting the material’s unfathomable age.

Ancient Contemporary Art by Ugo Rondinone in main art  Category

Ancient Contemporary Art by Ugo Rondinone in main art  Category

A short subway trip downtown, 37 more figures occupy the Gladstone Gallery. Though their scale is smaller, the impact is far greater in this sky-lit concrete-coated, cathedral-like space. The typically white walls of the gallery have been skimmed with a thin layer of concrete – catching the light beautifully and harmonizing with the polished concrete floor. Humble cast concrete pedestals at various heights reveal their own wonderful imperfections and air bubbles, contrasting with the natural pitted surface of the stones.

Ancient Contemporary Art by Ugo Rondinone in main art  Category

Ugo Rondinone “soul”. Installation view: Gladstone Gallery, New York

Ancient Contemporary Art by Ugo Rondinone in main art  Category

Ancient Contemporary Art by Ugo Rondinone in main art  Category

Adding a touch of humor and warmth, Ugo has assigned a simple title to each figure, giving these solemn stones delightful personalities (and in my mind, entire backstories). In the image above, from left to right: “The Loving”, “The Surprised”, “The Blessed”, “The Thankful”, and “The Interested”.

What: Ugo Rondinone: Human Nature
Where: Rockefeller Plaza, New York City
When: April 23 – July 7, 2013

What: Ugo Rondinone: soul
Where: Gladstone Gallery: 520 W 21st St, New York City
When: May 11 – July 3, 2013

All gallery images photographed by David Regen, Copyright Ugo Rondinone, Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York & Brussels

All Rockefeller Plaza images photographed by the author on a very early New York morning.