Measuring the Universe is an installation art by Slovakian artist Roman Ondák first installed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2007. It was a white room filled with thousands of what at first seemed to be thousands of sharp black lines. It almost resembled a swarm of bees zooming around the museum, going around and around one small room in the contemporary galleries. Upon closer inspection, one realizes that each seemingly random line marked various museum visitors’ heights. Accompanying the small black lines was text stating the name of the person and the date they were measured. The effect is incredible; most of the lines are near each other, so it seems like a giant black mass, with nearly purely white space on the bottom and top of the wall.
Ondák, like performance artists, attempts to transcend traditional divisions between piece and spectator, between viewing something and being a part of its creation. He makes art interactive, bringing together both the artistic cognescenti and plain, everyday steel workers. He allows everyone to have some sort of artistic record of themselves, from the highest of critics to tourists from Omaha who just wanted to visit a famous New York City museum, and ended up being a part of a fascinating work of art. Ondák brings together total strangers in his work. He gives what could be interpreted by many people as cold and impenetrable pieces of conceptual “art” a warm, friendly feeling. He allows everyone to have a little piece of high art. Conceptual art is often perceived as something pretentious and inaccessible, but Ondák gives anyone and everyone the chance to literally be recorded in a museum. ‘ ‘Measuring the Universe’ ‘ also possesses domestic qualities. In thousands of households, one can find a spot in the kitchen or living room or basement in which children’s heights are measured with a simple ruler and black marker, records of life and growing up. Ondák’s installation allows complete strangers to come together in an intimate way. By bringing an action normally confined to private corners of people’s homes to something as large and anonymous as a museum, he ties strangers together. They perform a somewhat intimate, comforting act together, bringing not only black lines to a white space, but a record of who they were and when they came together. He fills a plain space not with meaningless symbols or lines, but records of real, actual people who appreciated his work.
Since the early 1990s, in a complex oeuvre Ondák has been engaging with the heritage of Conceptualism and Minimalism, drawing on both global influences and references specific to the region of Central and Eastern Europe.
Roman Ondák was born in Žilina, Slovakia in 1966. He lives and works in Bratislava.