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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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Everyone is a Performer: Roman Ondák’s
“do not walk outside this area” at the Deutsche Guggenheim

Roman Ondák, Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2012, has created an exhibition for the Deutsche Guggenheim titled “do not walk outside this area” that resembles an imaginary journey. The Slovakian artist’s work not only undermines the conventions of the art establishment, but also turns viewers into performers as they walk over the wing of a Boeing. A report by Oliver Koerner von Gustorf.

It all starts with a prohibition, with one of the many commandoes and regulations we encounter every day, so numerous that our eyes graze over them and we hardly take notice. do not walk outside this area is the title of the exhibition Roman Ondák conceived for the Deutsche Guggenheim as Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2012. This time, however, the eponymous command not to step beyond a certain area comes from a place that seems completely absurd to most people. Everyone knows the demarcation lines on airplane wings that can be seen outside the portholes while on the runway or up in the sky. And it’s almost always the same thought that comes to mind: “How, at an altitude of 30,000 feet, am I supposed to walk around on a plane wing?” And: “Actually, what would that feel like?” Paradoxically, this strange prohibition unleashes a series of fantasies. Although we’re passengers and should normally assume that the instruction is directed purely at airplane mechanics, we still feel that it’s speaking to us. Ondák utilizes this mechanism in a very deliberate way. With subtle humor and an absence of didactic urging, the exhibition secretly leads the visitor where he normally shouldn’t be: to the other side of the line, the “forbidden” area where only our thoughts and fantasies can normally go.
A wall is a door is a wall: like in a puzzle or a scavenger hunt, the Slovakian artist places hints that the limitations of the White Cube are merely physical in nature and that we can imagine or think ourselves beyond them. For Wall Being a Door (2012), he installed doorknobs on both sides of the white wall separating the entrance hall and the first exhibition room of the Deutsche Guggenheim. Keyhole (2012) consists of a simple keyhole that Ondák let into the wall covering built over the inside of the window facade. One peers through the glass to the Boulevard Unter den Linden and a small bright section of the day with its passersby and traffic. Looking through a keyhole is stigmatized by prohibitions and taboos; people who do it usually harbor voyeuristic desires to penetrate the secrets and private lives of others. In this intervention, however, the relationship becomes inverted, and one looks from the protected museum space out onto the public realm, through the confines of art and normal life. The grey zone that Ondák allows us to enter in most of his works is situated somewhere between private and public experience, between a personal and collective scale. The experimental situations he develops in a lengthy process involving sketches, drawings, collages, and notations have something very tricky about them: they are precise, analytical, and yet amazingly simple.
For do not walk outside this area, he divided the long hall of the Deutsche Guggenheim into three consecutive spaces that the viewer walks through as though on a journey through various different events. He experiences the place, the work, and himself from a multitude of perspectives. The exhibition combines two major sets of themes that Ondák has been investigating since the beginning of his career: first, the rules and conventions that determine our everyday lives as well as the representation and reception of art; and second, traveling, moving from one place to another, whether it be physical or in the imagination. The two themes are closely connected to the biography of the artist, who was born in 1966 in Žilina, which was affected by the dissolution of the former Czechoslovakia. While the influences of Conceptual and Minimal Art are evident, his work also frames references to the subversive tactics of artists from the former Soviet Bloc. The Slovakian art scene, critical of the system, was forced to work in secret and reacted with subtle interventions and public actions to officially sanctioned state art.
In this tradition, Ondák repeatedly worked with a motif associated with waiting and expectation: the human queue. For his performance Good Feelings in Good Times of 2003, he had extras stand in line in front of the Kölnischer Kunstverein for no apparent reason and in 2004 at the London Frieze Art Fair. This not only disturbed the art business, but also the relationship between supply and demand. People often joined the back of the line without exactly knowing why. Of course, the idea for these works was inspired by the eternal queues at grocery stores that Ondák knew from childhood, but despite this, the image has entered the collective memory of all social systems. Today, the long lines at check-in counters of discount airliners belong to everyday global life. And for many people, standing in line conjures up an uneasy feeling of economic depression. In Awaiting Enacted  (2003), on view in the first room of the exhibition, Ondák plays upon these implications: in a huge showcase, he displays 16 pages of various different Slovakian newspapers of a single day, whereby the pictures have all been replaced with motifs of human queues found in newspapers in a variety of different countries and times. People of every age, every skin color, and in every conceivable style of clothing are standing in front of stores, counters, schools, offices, and tourist attractions, in anonymous corridors or on the street—in Ondák’s fictitious newspaper edition, there seems to be one thing only to report: the whole world is standing in line.

Installations and drawings that reflect “inside” and outside,” people waiting: one could perhaps interpret the first room of Roman Ondák’s exhibition as something akin to an imaginary waiting or departure area, because there is an astonishing transition awaiting the visitor to “do not walk outside this area”: in the next room is the actual complete wing of a Boeing that visitors then use as a bridge or dock to enter the final part of the show. And of course the path leads over the diagonally installed airplane fuselage to the demarcation line with the sign “do not walk outside this area.” “The sculpture is installed in such a way that people naturally walk right over it, without any special invitation,” Ondák explains in a conversation shortly before the opening. “You walk through the exhibition and suddenly you’re standing on this wing. This prohibition that you read is directed at you, at everyone. You automatically ask yourself, ‘is this about my mental limitations, or my behavior?’ But it’s not me who invented it; I merely appropriated the sentence, adopted it, and transferred it into the exhibition.”

In the setting of the museum, a warning against walking on a certain area also broaches other fears: please don’t touch. In the case of Ondák, the opposite is the case. For his huge sculpture, he deliberately chose an object that is both spectacular and completely unspectacular: “At first, a plane’s wing looks like this huge, bombastic object. But it isn’t, it doesn’t look like anything at all. In reality, it’s completely ordinary. In seeing the form, everyone will be reminded of their own travel experiences, which leaves room for an individual power of imagination.” For Ondák, the sculpture wouldn’t work without people. The wing, he says, is a kind of platform on which one perceives oneself differently. It’s only complete when the exhibition visitors walk over it: “The room is empty. There is nothing in it besides this wing, the visitors that walk over it, and those that have to wait. Unfortunately, it can only carry a limited number of people. Some of the visitors might need some help or explanations from the museum guards, and this is part of the idea. It’s a performance. That’s what I mean with a changed perception. You don’t have to perform anything, or entertain people. Everyone who walks on the wing is a performer.”

In the last part of the exhibition, the journey ends with a journey, or rather a semi-fictional travel report that seems like a mirror image of the newspaper reports from the first room. In Balancing at the Toe of the Boot (2010), Ondák talks about a trip he took with his wife in a Fiat Panda through Calabria. Hung in glass frames and visible from both sides are seven postcards with common Calabrian sights that the pair always sent with the same message: “We are still alive.” It’s an allusion to the work of the Japanese artist On Kawara, one of the most important Conceptual artists. Between the years 1970 and 1979, Kawara sent telegrams at regular intervals to friends and acquaintances with the same message each time: “I AM STILL ALIVE. ON KAWARA.” At the same time, Ondák’s version contains an ironic reference to the dangers of the southern Italian province: organized crime and total traffic chaos. The rift between real event, personal perception, and news coverage also becomes evident in the 16 framed fictional newspaper articles reporting about the trip in journalistic style. The snapshot-like pictures show the Ondáks as tourists in situations that are glaringly uneventful and random: standing next to a cactus, visiting a glass blower’s workshop, on a beach promenade.

As an overall installation, it’s precisely this interface between event and non-event, the spectacular and the banal, between the public and private that do not walk outside this area addresses. Like the fuselage, which is the focal point of the exhibition, the other works are not solemn art fetishes, but vehicles or aides to spark our thinking and imagination and to question our perception, also of ourselves. Many aspects of the exhibition, such as waiting in line and the rules according to which we move through public spaces and in museums, the news that we experience second-hand, are all parts of our everyday lives. We have absorbed them like the white walls on which the “art” is hung. Ondák calls on us not to accept these limitations without resistance—either in life or in art.

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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
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