Roman Ondak

It would have been easy enough for hundreds of Japanese steelworkers to cast a steel sculpture the size of a full-grown Serra—it was no doubt trickier to convince them to undertake the playful bit of bricolage Roman Ondak asked of them, a task they eventually carried out with imaginative precision: The artist gave 500 workers a chocolate bar apiece, asking them to save the wrapping paper and sculpt something out of it. A white veneer table, nearly twenty feet across, now serves as a wide pedestal to hold these tiny, shimmering silver sculptures—miniature boats, boots, heads, classical origami, simple folded shapes, animal bodies, intricately fashioned petals—all made out of thin sheets of tinfoil.

The result, Passage, 2004, formed the centerpiece of Ondak’s first solo exhibition at a German museum. After acquiring the work, Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne took the occasion to devote a show to the Slovak artist, who lives and works in Berlin and Bratislava. The show also included three works made in 2007, the most inconspicuous of which gave the exhibition its title, “My Summer Shoes Rest in Winter”: Ondak tied together the laces of his boots and hung them from the ceiling, a slender line. More strikingly mounted, despite its size, was the tiny shelf—just a few square inches—upon which Ondak has strewn a few Slovak coins, titling the work Pocket Money of My Son, 2007.

Measuring the Universe, 2007, on the other hand, became more visible each day: The museum staff invited each of the show’s visitors to stand against a white wall and have his or her height measured, like a child whose growth is recorded on a door frame. A line drawn in black felt-tip pen marked the height, and beside it a first name and the date was recorded; already by the end of the opening reception these short lines and handwritten letters had accumulated into a sort of gray veil, like low-hanging rain clouds at head level—a marker of past presences, positions, quantities, and dimensions.

Between this wall piece and the table pedestal, one saw not only that something inconspicuous—a tiny mark, a bit of sculpted refuse—can assume monumental proportions if the quantities are right but also that even offhand, involuntary gestures have potential: You put your hand in your pocket to jingle some change; you check to see that your shoes are fastened. And while the Slovak coins that the artist’s little boy treasures as his wealth are threatened with obsolescence because the land of his birth is slated to join the EU, doesn’t everyone sort their clothing according to seasons, as the artist has done with his summer shoes? And so what matters is in part these particular coins and these shoelaces: Ondak shows the raw materials for contemporary everyday life, using them to form an amalgam that appears simultaneously casual and precious; these personal souvenirs have the many-voiced power of hymns.

Catrin Lorch

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.