Ogromna. What’s in a name? By any other, this imposing work by sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard would likely be just as beguiling. And the artist herself tells us not to read too much into the work’s title, apart from its linguistic nod to femininity.
Ursula von Rydingsvard, Ogromna (detail), 2009, cedar, graphite, H. 20 ft. 7 in. x W. 12 ft. 4 in. x D. 11 ft. 8 in., Commissioned by the North Carolina Museum of Art with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest)
Ursula von Rydinsvard, left, inspects Ogromna during its installation in 2009
At first blush Ogromna’s indelicate silhouette seems anything but. Femininity, though, is so much more than the figural. It’s imbedded in a gendered history that is social, personal—even literary. So to me Ogromna is inseparable from the artist’s own memory, irrespective of intent.
Ogromna under construction with the new West Building in the background, 2009
Von Rydingsvard was born as the Second World War was raging into its third year in Deensen, Germany. Exiled from her homeland after the German occupation of Poland, the artist as a young girl lived with her family in eight different postwar refugee camps before immigrating to the United States in 1950. But Von Rydingsvard’s early history seems to have had an effect—not least of all on her masterly aesthetic sensibilities.
The Second World War scalded its way through Europe between 1939 and 1945, leaving the devastating mark of warfare and inhumanity in its wake. That indelible brutality lingered on in the aesthetics and form of the built European landscape in the war’s aftermath. Many of those who survived were upended and displaced. And like the artist and her family, many who survived turned to simple, preindustrial ways to support their loved ones and rebuild from the earth upward. Out of the jagged urban ruin and scorched earth came the clean aesthetics of pragmatic austerity.
Von Rydingsvard herself cites the rough textures of the camp barracks—and her parents’ simple agrarian labor—as motivators of her work. Even an awareness of the quiet tragedy of her inspiration, however, doesn’t suppress my sense that works like Ogromna are so much more than mere war memorial.
On the contrary; Ogromna aggressively transforms raw postwar materials into a piece of genuine, organic beauty. That piece, which rises to over 20 feet, calls to mind a sub-Saharan termite mound. A eucalyptus gall. Perhaps even a hornet’s nest. Like these structures, Ogromna feels as though it, too, could be a growing, living habitat.
So when Von Rydingsvard refers to the “softness” and “sensuality” of the reconstructed cedar and graphite that constitute Ogromna, it resonates. What a beautiful, ingenious thing that the artist can germinate the inanimate architecture of war.
Listen to the artist discussing how she chose the site and the title for her work.
Ogromna in snow
Rough texture, organic beauty
Meg Eberle is a volunteer at the NCMA.
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