<< Front page Arts May 14, 2004

Must-see sculptor Rona Pondick comes to Oberlin

“Beautiful and strange, yet also disturbing and fascinating” is a statment that has been used to describe Rona Pondick’s upcoming exhibition at Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Pondick, who is internationally recognized for her multi-faceted and surprising sculptures, currently has her piece, “Baby Blue,” on display in the Allen Memorial Art Museum.

Pondick says that this work, which consists of a set of lumpy, droopy and cartoonish blue legs that hang on the wall and whose feet host a pair of white baby loafers, is one of just a few vertical works she has ever created. “Baby Blue,” which inevitably catches museum visitors’ attention in Allen Memorial Art Museum’s sculpture court, yields various reactions and interpretations. This disparity is Pondick’s prime interest.

Speaking Wednesday night to a small group of students and museum faculty, Pondick explained her artistic path, which had turbulent beginnings. Some of the first feedback she ever received accused her work of being “scatological.” (She thought this was a compliment until she found its definition and realized that her work really did look a lot like, well, excrement.) Her style changed drastically over time and she became famous for obsessing over everyday objects, mainly beds (or pillows), shoes, milk bottles and teeth. Her “middle period” sculptures and installations often incorporate all four of these objects into one work.

She was taught by minimalists and is truly interested in symbolism and metaphor. However, she is thrilled to see different interpretations of her work. One of her favorite experiences deals with one internationally toured sculpture that spawned vastly diverse impressions along its path. “In South Africa, where earth is a material used in so much African art, I didn’t anticipate they’d be terrified,” Pondick said. “They wouldn’t touch it and thought it was black magic or voodoo. In the Netherlands, it reminded people of death associated with dams breaking. In Austria, people thought of the Holocaust. In France, it was genetics. Context has a strong impact on how we read things.”

The most striking of her middle-period sculptures are those that include “teeth balls,” which appear in many of her works, most notably “Pink Treats.” This particular sculpture includes 1,500 of these synthetic balls that boast sets of “Rubber Rotting Teeth” — a Halloween phenomenon. Pondick says that she first started using the teeth due to the visceral reaction she has when she is angry (or, more specifically, when she is asked about her feelings concerning Renoir’s “Bathers”). That reaction? She wants to bite things and has duly concluded this is a feeling that should be channeled into her work. After the corporate discontinuation of “Rubber Rotting Teeth,” however, Pondick began to cast her own. This, she says, is how she began using molds of her own body in her sculptures.

Pondick’s recent work, which will be on display in Cleveland from tonight until Aug. 8, is a fusion of her own anatomy with that of animals. She uses stainless steel and cutting edge 3-D “scanning” technology to create sculptures founded on an artistic idea that has existed since the Neolithic: the morphing of the human and animal forms. Pondick’s views on the open-ended reception of her work are noble and her artistic philosophies are down-to-earth and surprisingly simple. Her output is startlingly innovative, accessible and highly stylized. Whether in Oberlin or Cleveland, Pondick’s work is a must-see.


The Review News Service: News, weather, sports and more, in your ObieMail every Sunday and Wednesday night. (Click here to subscribe.)