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Deutsche Bank Collection goes App
Curator Joan Young on Gabriel Orozco’s Commission for the Deutsche Guggenheim
Everyone is a Performer: Roman Ondák's "do not walk outside this area" at the Deutsche Guggenheim
Grammar of the Everyday: Notes on Roman Ondák
Deutsche Bank Once Again Main Sponsor of ART HK
No Place like Home - The 2012 Whitney Biennial
Sober Beauty: The Photographs of Berenice Abbott
Curtain up - The Premiere of Frieze New York
Gate to the Present - Wilhelm Sasnal in the Haus der Kunst in Munich
“Color in outer space is nonsense, in any case.”: Tracing Thomas Ruff’s Work
An interview with Brendan Fernandes


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Grammar of the Everyday:
Notes on Roman Ondák

Roman Ondák works with existing situations, but alters them in ways that challenge our expectations and conventions. Art and life are viewed from new perspectives, while the things we otherwise take for granted are called into question. Kito Nedo on the subtle interventions of Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2012.

In 1974, the Parisian writer Georges Perec sat in a café on the place Saint-Sulpice and recorded his experience over a period of three days. The author was in search of something fleeting: the grammar of the everyday. According to his theory, this structure is comprised of so-called micro-events whereby everything that happens while nothing is happening must be precisely written down, including buses and taxis driving by, deliveries made, passersby, even the form clouds take or the number of pigeons nearby. In this way, time accrues during the writing process, and a workaday location becomes legible. His thoroughness proved worthwhile: today, Perec’s small experimental book Tentative d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien (An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, 1975) is considered a classic of French modernism.

The artist Roman Ondák, who was born in 1966 in Žilina, also makes the prosaic, quotidian experiment and time the center of his artistic activity. Parallels to Perec’s method can be found in the work of the Slovakian artist, who studied at the art academy in Bratislava from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. Ondák’s art is characterized by the heightened attention required to break through to the poetic core of everyday life and otherwise fleeting perceptions. However, the artist does not leave things at the level of observation and verification, but is himself the author of shifts and microevents through subtle interventions that make the present appear mutable. This is the humanitarian, utopian core around which his art revolves.

This approach becomes apparent in the early, oft-cited work SK Parking (2001), which Ondák realized for his contribution to an exhibition at the Vienna Secession: over a period of eight weeks, seven used Škodas with Slovak license plates were parked behind the museum. One can only surmise the kind of speculation several long term–parked Škodas with license plates from a neighboring country can induce in the minds of hurrying passersby in Vienna’s city center. What is going on here? And why has nothing happened for such a long time? Connections to the used-car trade, fantasies of small economies difficult to understand, or mysterious collective sales might have come to mind. Suddenly, an unspectacular urban location seemed—for those who registered the change in the first place—mixed up in a complex affair. How the work even occurred became secondary: in order to realize his idea, the artist convinced friends and acquaintances to take part in the piece. They made their cars available for the duration of the exhibition and were compensated accordingly from the production budget.

On another level, SK Parking can also be read as a discreet form of institutional critique, as an artist’s clever sleight of hand to extricate his work from the possessive clutches of the institution. Entirely without pathos, Ondák resists both trendy spectacles and the pressure to render art worthy of museums by shifting his action into the city’s space, thus incorporating passersby and creating a piece that is independent of visitors, opening hours, and admission fees. And it works: seven Škodas parked for eight weeks or a half-hour performance of a man staring into a gallery window (The Stray Man, 2006) suffice to let art and life collapse into one another.

This recurrent moment between an interior and exterior view, the ability to change one’s position with regard to the art system, is part of Ondák’s modus operandi. Although his work certainly has connections to East European Conceptual art, the artist does not proceed from a position within the art world, as Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan once described his strategy in a 2007 catalogue for the Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck, Austria. Rather, in Morgan’s view, he often articulates his work from the perspective of an intruder: “Because it reveals both the artificial nature and established rites of the art world, Ondák’s work is firmly anchored in the context of daily life and goes hand in hand with the rules and orders of the everyday, not only to deconstruct these or to take them on in satiric manner, but to show their relationship to other forms of life and work.” Cultural production appears here as something from the immediate present, nonelite, and imbedded in everyday life.

This makes it difficult, of course, to speak of individual mediums such as drawing, sculpture, installation, performance, or photography, although all of these play a role in his work. The artist’s collaborative projects repeatedly call into question the concept of authorship, which is so fundamental to the art world. For Enter the Orbit (2011) at the Kunsthaus Zürich, he presented, among other things, 96 versions of a Sputnik model that he partially created himself, but also commissioned from friends who remained anonymous. The original unmanned rocket that the Soviet Union launched into outer space in 1957 became a symbol of the Cold War arms race between two political systems. With these small-scale objects made from common materials such as coconuts, light-emitting diodes, or rubber gloves, Ondák imbues his work with ambiguity, for example, in its reference to both “Sputnik,” which means “companion” or “attendant” in Russian, and “space,” or “cosmos,” which playfully connotes worldly, international sophistication.

According to the Slovenian curator and cultural theorist Igor Zabel, many of Ondák’s works can be described as “situations”: The viewer is confronted with constellations of things, people, and spaces that deviate in their very essence from what is expected and taken for granted.” Ondák’s work for the Czech and Slovak Republic Pavilion during the 2009 Venice Biennale is one of the most impressive demonstrations of this working philosophy to date. Through the duration of the biennale, the artist opened the exhibition space to foot traffic by removing the doors from the pavilion’s shorter sides, modifying the structure that was originally built in 1926 according to the plans of the Czech Cubist Otakar Novotný. The interior was adapted to the style of the surrounding Giardini by adding landscaping such as banks of earth planted with trees and bushes, and to the left and right, a slightly winding path crossed the space.

In place of the art the visitor expected, there was nothing more than a staged landscape—acacias, rhododendron, and a mix of various perennials—in a gesture through which the biennale itself became work’s subject. Ondák’s intervention not only ran counter to the tough and frequently criticized logic of the international competition, during which countries strive to outdo one another, and the obsolete patriotism that characterizes the layout of the national pavilions to this day, but broke through it in a surprising way. One should note that the word “Cecoslovacchia,” the pre- 1993 Italian name for the formerly united republics, appears above the entrance to the pavilion, a reminder that Ondák's transformation of the building is presented in a state of ideological emptiness to the largest possible degree. Thus, in Loop (2009), we see a rare case of a site-specific work that transcends a functional reference to the architecture and the historical, sociological, and political conditions prevailing there: in his contribution to the biennale, Ondák called the pavilion as such into question in an elegant but fundamental way. The grammar of a biennial—indeed, in Ondák’s hands, the grammar of the everyday—is not static, but highly mobile.

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On View
Roman Ondák's Project for the Deutsche Guggenheim / The Sight of Sound - Art and Music at 60 Wall Gallery / Cornelia Schleime at Deutsche Bank Luxembourg
Deutsche Bank sponsors the major Jasper Johns show in Săo Paulo / Surreal Product Landscapes - Jeff Koons in Frankfurt / A great performance: Artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection at documenta 13 / Retro-Fictions: Made in Germany Two in Hanover / Pawel Althamer in Berlin, Bolzano, and Munich / An Invitation to See: Yto Barrada in the Ikon Gallery / Space for Wild Thought - The 2012 Paris Triennale
The Press on the Premiere of Frieze New York / The Press on "Found in Translation"at the Deutsche Guggenheim / "Frankfurt Museum Wonder" - The Press on the New Städel Museum
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