press release

If you say that an artist works with everyday materials, it usually means that he or she is demonstratively parting from venerated tradition, showing that one needs no special tools to make art and can perhaps do without a flawless white space in which to exhibit it. It can also mean that there are no suitable gallery spaces for this sort of practice or that the materials are simply not available on the market. All of these possibilities apply to the work of Roman Ondák, who was born in 1966 in Bratislava, Slovakia, and is among the most exciting representatives of a young generation of conceptual artists.

In 2012, Ondák will also play an important role in Deutsche Bank’s art program. Chosen by the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, which is comprised of the renowned curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Nancy Spector, he has been selected as “Artist of the Year” 2012. Next year, the Deutsche Guggenheim will present a major solo exhibition of his work that will subsequently travel to additional international institutions. Accompanying the show are an extensive catalogue and an exclusive artist’s edition. In addition, the bank will acquire a selection of works on paper for its collection. Following Wangechi Mutu in 2010 and Yto Barrada in 2011, with Roman Ondák the council chose an artist whose work emphasizes the draft character and conceptual approach of this medium. “It will be exciting to see how he will challenge the medium of drawing and the material of paper in the future,” says Udo Kittelmann, Director of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, who nominated Ondák for the award.

Indeed, with the simplest means Ondák creates an art that lends everyday experiences and perceptions a philosophical, political, or sociocritical dimension. At the same time, his interventions scrutinize the art industry. When he represented Slovakia at the 2009 Venice Biennale, Ondák extended the landscaping in the exhibition park, the Giardini, into the interior of the Slovakian Pavilion. Bushes, shrubs, and even the garden path continued through the exhibition building, as though the structure did not exist. The work dissolved boundaries between interior and exterior space and hence the pavilion itself along with its function.

Whether with his installation “Catch” (2010) he lets a curtain stuck in the window of the exhibition space to sway in the wind and thus allude to an imaginary drama or mishap, or in his performance “Good Feelings in Good Times” (2003) has extras stand in line in front of the Kölner Kunstverein for no apparent reason—Ondák’s interventions play with our standards, expectations, and perspectives. The lines of people that he staged in 2004 in front of booths at the Frieze Art Fair in London take the relationship between supply and demand to absurdity. They can also be associated with the lines outside of stores in the former Eastern bloc, referring indirectly to Ondák’s career, which was heavily affected by the collapse of the former Czechoslovakia. While the influences of Conceptual and Minimal art are evident in Ondák’s work, his art also incorporates the subversive tactics of the artists from Communist Eastern Europe. In Slovakia, too, artists critical of the system were forced to work in secret; they reacted to state-sanctioned art with subtle interventions and public actions.

Although Ondák’s reserved art is often recognizable only at second glance, his importance in the art world is unmistakable. In 2011, he has had more international exhibitions than ever before, including solo shows at the Kunsthaus Zürich and in Oxford, as well as participation in the Venice Biennale. People used to ask him about his prescient institutional criticism. Ondák failed to understand what they meant: “Which institution?” was his reply. At first glance, his art is comparable to that of the Conceptual artists of the 1960s and 1970s—except they were testing their escape from the so-called white cube, while Ondák never even knew these structures. All that was available to him was everyday materials—and his own mind.

Roman Ondák
Deutsche Bank "Artist of the Year" 2012
Jury: Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, Nancy Spector