Image: Rona Pondick’s Monkeys installation
Rona Pondick, Monkeys, 1998-2001. Installed in the exhibition Carlone Contemporary: Rona Pondick, Belvedere Museum, Vienna. © Belvedere, Vienna, Photo: Johannes Stoll.
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Rona Pondick’s Monkeys installation

1 October 2022

Harpies, merpeople, fauns…and monkeys. Rona Pondick’s entrancing sculpture sees our simian relatives merge with human parts in the historical surrounds of Upper Belvedere palace.

The world has always had a certain fascination with beings that are part human, part animal, or who might transform between the two.

Ancient times are full of them. Think of the Great Sphinx of Giza: silent guardian of the pyramids. Not to mention sundry Egyptian deities.

Such hybrids have found their way into great literary works of civilisation, too. The Minotaur in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, for example. Or Franz Kafka’s 1915 Metamorphosis has salesman Gregor Samsa turn into an insect.

Similar themes continue to fill stories today. Centaurs lived in the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts, for example.

Monkeys by the acclaimed US sculptor Rona Pondick slips into this artistic and literary tradition; the installation continues the Carlone Contemporary series, featuring a piece of contemporary art in the baroque Carlone Hall at Upper Belvedere palace.

The hybrid or dual nature of the piece comes across at different levels; quite apart from the juxtaposition of old and new, the sculpted monkeys of the installation title morph seamlessly into casts of Pondick’s own head and limbs. (A motif apparently inspired in part by Kafka’s story.)

Closer examination reveals the transition between human and monkey is not quite as seamless as supposed from a distance: the monkeys are representations in smooth stainless steel, while Pondick’s metal casts reflect her true textured form (albeit at a smaller scale).

Monkeys also plays with our perceptions, much like the illusionist frescoes on the surrounding walls.

A cheeky monkey pose turns almost demonic at times, where the empty eye sockets give the monkeys a skull-like visage.

The urge is to walk around and view the troop from different angles. The mix of poses swings from playfulness to suffering, all depending on your position and interpretation.

All-in-all, a quite captivating piece!

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