I was in a bad mood when I entered the Musée D'Art Moderne. It was ten o'clock on a Sunday morning, and I'd just paid six euros for a completely average coffee – with bad service – when my fatigue and the hour would've already been enough. Entering the Roman Ondák exhibition, I had the distinct feeling that this was not the time to look at art, and immediately my suspicions were confirmed.
After climbing the stairs I was in a dim space with two video installations running and lots of glass vitrines displaying open publications. This is the type of thing I can't stand: it's boring, it's static, and I really wasn't disposed to peer through the glass to look at one page of an article. I considered them, but then lost patience. Not much was happening in the videos; I didn't feel like taking the time to look at them besides. I was complaining to myself about how badly curated the show was, about how stupid it was to try and make people stand around and look at these stupid glass boxes. The space even looked shoddy – with a large area chained off for no apparent reason.
Things got better, however, when I moved into the next room and was confronted by a collection of Ondák's sculptures, most of which have been made this year. The work brightened my mood: quotidian objects qua minimalist sculptures – things like a brass sink trap and plug hole, its chain attached to the wall, a circular disc of perspex sitting on top of it; or an old drawer with some everyday detritus scattered across its bottom. The type of thing you recognise, the bizarre scraps of paper that have been there for god knows how long, bus tickets, stubs of things, broken pens, or a small circular marble base with a vertical wire, upon which is mounted the type of keyhole that reminded me of doors in cheap houses. It's light, studied, and playful. Its wonder comes from the collision between the monumental flavour of minimalism and such simple things. It genuinely recreates them.
Roman Ondák, Measuring the Universe, 2007; Courtesy de l’artiste, Collection Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; MoMA, New York et Tate Modern, Londres.
From here, and feeling much better about the world, I moved on to some of the artist’s older work. I had my height recorded against the wall as part of Measuring the Universe, which, despite the fact I should be a jaded critic, gave me a frisson of participatory pleasure. It is still visually engaging even though it was at a nascent stage, the exhibition then having only recently opened – by the end of the run I imagine it will be quite stunning.
The final room held Futuropolis, a work comprised of one hundred drawings by Ondák's friends and family, based on the idea of the future megalopolis. By this point I was really enjoying myself. It's not only the pleasure you get from seeing all the different ideas and styles of drawing, that range from highly skilled to pretty crap, from totally abstract to illustratively perfect, but also the interpretational challenge that it lays down to the viewer. Looking at the pictures you not only take in the ideas of the future but also can't help trying to imagine the character of the artists who created them. I thought it was fun – and, unbashedly – pretty cool.
Roman Ondák, Futuropolis, 2006, détail; Courtesy de l'artiste.
In spite of myself, the exhibition worked. I wound up passing back and forth between the different pieces feeling like there was something great here. I'd already decided I was going to have to come back at some point when I returned to the first room to sit on the small flight of stairs and take some notes. It was as I was doing so that I happened to glance at the guide pamphlet and noticed that this room wasn't just a weird piece of curation, it was work. The videos and vitrines were called Before Waiting Becomes Part of Your Life. The chain that closed off part of the gallery had a sign that read 'DEADLINE POSTPONED UNTIL TOMORROW'.
It appeared that Ondák had managed to scrub away my critical distance: the fault I'd been cursing so voraciously was precisely what made the piece work so well – the joke was on me. It appears Sunday morning might be a great time to go to a gallery and, on the balance of things, I was quite happy to have made of fool of myself to myself. The reversal was quite delicious.
(Image on top: Roman Ondák, Untitled, 2005, détail; Courtesy de l’artiste, collections particulières Londres, Culiacan et Berlin, Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.)