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Roman Ondak: Deutsche Bank's Artist of the Year 2012
"The art world is not a utopian free space…" Glenn Ligon’s AMERICA
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An Interview with Pawel Althamer
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Roman Ondak
Deutsche Bank's Artist of the Year 2012


Deutsche Bank has now introduced its "Artist of the Year 2012" at the London Frieze Art Fair. The Global Art Advisory Council selected Roman Ondak, one of the best-known conceptual artists internationally. The bank's "Artist of the Year" award honors young artists who have already produced an exceptional body of work in which works on paper or photography play an important role.


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 Ondak, who was born in 1966 in Žilina, Slovakia, and is among the most exciting representatives of a younger generation of conceptual artists.

Now, Roman Ondak has been selected as "Artist of the Year 2012"-on the recommendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, consisting of curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Nancy Spector and chaired by Pierre de Weck, member of Deutsche Bank AG's Executive Committee. The decision was announced in the framework of the Frieze Art Fair, which Deutsche Bank supports as main sponsor.

In 2012, Ondak will play an important role in Deutsche Bank's art program. 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 Ondak 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 Ondak for the award.

Indeed, with the simplest means Ondak 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, Ondak 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.

For his installation Catch (2010), which he also realized in the Deutsche Bank Lounge at the Frieze Art Fair in London, he had a drape caught in a window flap in the wind, alluding to an imaginary drama or mishap. In his performance Good Feelings in Good Times (2003) he has extras stand in line in front of the Kölnische Kunstverein for no apparent reason. Ondak'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 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 Ondak's career, which was heavily affected by the collapse of the former Czechoslovakia. While the influences of Conceptual and Minimal Art are evident in Ondak'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 Ondak's reserved art is often recognizable only at second glance, his importance in the art industry is unmistakable. In 2011, he has had more international exhibitions than ever before, including solo shows at the Kunsthaus Zurich and in Oxford, as well as participation in the Venice Biennale. People used to ask him about his prescient institutional criticism. Ondak 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 Ondak never even knew these structures. All that was available to him was everyday materials-and his own mind.

Silke Hohmann




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