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Roman Ondak

Press release


Roman Ondak – Perfect Society

Esther Schipper is pleased to announce Roman Ondak’s first solo exhibition with the gallery. Entitled Perfect Society, the exhibition includes new sculptures, a painting, and works on paper.

A major theme in Ondak’s oeuvre, most of the works take as point of departure found objects—be they utilitarian or every day, from the world of construction, athletic equipment, art and design, or mass-produced ephemera. Slight alterations, added modifications, and/or precise restructuring of elements create works of art that, while playing on echoes of its original shape, function or state, exude a simple, classical sense of beauty and rhythm. 

Organized to create a delicate looking convex surface rising from the ground, the large-scale sculpture, Perfect Society, 2019, is assembled from several thousand short pieces of heating, water and gas pipe of varying diameter. Its central circular shape, around which curved parts of pipe are loosely placed, at first resembles the characteristic orderly structure of a sunflower's blossom or a hive's honeycomb. The motif of bees and flower is a metaphor for energy: both for the warmth generated by a beehive and the sun and as a model of social interaction in which each part is contributing to the good of the whole.Arranged by decreasing diameter from the center to its margins, leaving the bent parts at its periphery, the repurposed pipes (salvaged from a public building near the artists' studio) come to symbolize hierarchical order and uniformity and, as the title suggests, stipulate an analogy with utopia. 

Aeon, 2019—a construction of wooden beams on a metal frame suspended from the ceiling—recalls the handrails of a staircase. Extending from the ceiling to float above ground, it forms an enigmatic geometric shape suggestive of Greek key or meander, found on ancient Greek vases or the ornamental freezes of Roman temples. The logic of its construction appears to shift as we walk around it. Combining the formal language of domestic architecture and ancient ornamental pattern, the work creates a beautifully evocative yet simple shape. Imagining the correlate staircase takes the viewer on a fantastic journey.Vertigo, 2018, equally plays on the notion of an absent staircase: two modified handrails from the artist’s house, installed at a distance above one another on the wall, create a marked absence.

A fourth work, Becoming a Row, 2019, continues this theme of repurposed everyday objects: constructed from individual wooden drawers, cut and nestled into a geometric pattern of ever smaller surfaces, the objects used for ordering things, are brought into dysfunctional arrangement, defying order but also embodying a dizzying geometric diminishment.

Repurposed from the realm of athletic equipment, a five-meter-long gymnastics bar, the top covered with red dust, becomes a narrow band of alien soil, complete with the artist’s footsteps. An oblique reference to the large-scale recreation of a Martian landscape for his 2004 solo exhibition at the Kölnischer Kunstverein—the work is entitled Mars Walk, 2019—, the footsteps introduce a lingering performative presence, just as the sculptures can function as traces of the artist’s home: pipes and handrails in the current exhibition, or, for example, door- or window handles in previous works.

A found canvas and a collection of prints and postcards continue Ondak’s modification of existing paintings and prints. The painting, Open End, 2019, has been altered—adding a pattern and excising a small section—giving new meaning to an unfinished canvas the artist found. The suite of black-and-white prints and postcards depict views of Notre Dame in Paris. In a reference to the recent fire of the Parisian landmark, bright red clouds rise from the church’s towers and fill the sky. As in previous works, such as Across that Place, 2008–11 on the history of the Panama Canal or his 2010 series Glimpse, inserting himself into historical prints of Mount Vesuvius, Ondak focuses on the cultural memory constructed by artists and designers of mass-produced ephemera. 

With poignant emotional immediacy, the allusion to a disaster considered an international cultural tragedy, provoking personal memories and individual acts of mourning, highlights a shared yet individualized experience. Yet many of the other works draw on such shared moments and mnemonic traces: the touch of a wooden handrail, the ubiquity of cast-off pipes, the everyday activity of opening drawers. The melancholy quality of the now dysfunctional objects is given a hopeful spin: repurposed, given a voice to subtly inspire the viewer’s imagination to fill the absences with their own memories and visions of real and imagined encounters.

Roman Ondak was born 1966 in Zilina, Slovakia. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava and Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. The artist lives and works in Bratislava.