‘I Want to Create Awareness’: After a Terrifying Diagnosis, Artist Ugo Rondinone Is Organizing a High-Profile Auction to Benefit Cancer Research

The benefit sale at Sotheby's New York will raise money for bladder cancer research.

Ugo Rondinone at the Bass Museum on November 30, 2016 in Miami Beach, Florida. Photo: Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

When the artist Ugo Rondinone was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bladder cancer in May 2017 he felt alone and terribly uninformed. 

Rondinone had never heard of bladder cancer nor known anyone who had been diagnosed with it. “I was looking for support groups, but there were none. That made the situation even scarier because the side effects of the therapy are quite cruel,” the artist tells artnet News. “It was completely unknown territory.” 

That’s why the artist, now 56, is turning his attention toward raising awareness of the disease, which remains obscure to the much of the larger public despite being one of the seven most diagnosed forms of cancer in the country, taking more than 15,000 lives annually. Consequently, funding for bladder cancer research pales in comparison to other forms.

Later this month, Rondinone will sponsor “STOP BLADDER CANCER,” an auction at Sotheby’s New York to benefit bladder cancer treatment research at Weill Medical College, where researchers (including Rondinone’s own oncologist) are working to develop new forms of immunotherapy treatments targeting the disease.

The sale will feature work by Rondinone and 14 other artists, including Sarah Lucas, Oscar Murillo, Elizabeth Peyton, and Pat Steir. The works will go on view to the public from September 20–25. The sale will take place on the evening of the 26th as part of Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated auction. Prices range from an estimated $7,000 to $220,000; the whole collection is expected to go for upwards of $1 million. 

Ugo Rondinone's, <i>yellow red white blue mountain</i> (2019), which will be included in Sotheby's “STOP BLADDER CANCER” sale o September 26. Courtesy of the artist and Sotheby's.

Ugo Rondinone’s, yellow red white blue mountain (2019), which will be included in Sotheby’s “STOP BLADDER CANCER” sale. Courtesy of the artist and Sotheby’s.

Rondinone took a year off of work and travel. He canceled his museum shows and turned many of his day-to-day duties over to his exhibition manager. Few knew of his situation. But after learning more about the cancer and its lack of funding in the US, the artist knew that coming forward with his own diagnosis was a way of bringing attention to the cause. 

“I want to create awareness and put a spotlight on the cancer,” he says, adding that he hopes the auction and the message behind it will stretch beyond just the art world. “Maybe new support groups can be formed in New York City.”

After his diagnosis, Rondinone began a progressive form of immunotherapy treatment and, fortunately, it worked. By September of 2017, his cancer was in remission. Though he must remain on medication for 10 years—the period of time in which the disease is most likely to return—Rondidone was, and still is, cancer free. 

“STOP BLADDER CANCER” will be on view at Sotheby’s New York, 1334 York Avenue, September 20–25, 2019. The auction will take place the evening of September 26. 

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