Komar & Melamid

Vitaly Komar, 11 September 1943, Moscow Alexander Melamid, 14 July 1945, Moscow

The two artists studied together at the Stroganov Moscow Higher Industrial Art School. After graduation, they held a joint one-day exhibition at the Blue Bird Café. In 1972, they began working as co-authors (until 2003). In 1974, they were among the initiators with Oskar Rabin of the Bulldozer Exhibit. They participated actively in all the exhibitions of unofficial art in Moscow, including the apartment shows in 1976. They immigrated to the USA via Israel in 1978. They live and work in New York, and are some of the most famous Russian artists living in the West. They have exhibited in numerous shows in Russia, the USA, and Europe, including Documenta 8.

Komar and Melamid created their first joint work in 1965, while students at the Stroganov School. They had already set themselves the task of creating a new direction in art, which would be based on a language that the public could understand yet still be the language of high art. After several years of endless seeking, they found that language. While working on the design of the Pioneer camp in the winter of 1972, the artists decided to use the materials of commissioned ideological production as a language whose signs and images could be re-coded. They created a series of works for an exhibition of Sots Art, as they proclaimed it. The actual term, Sots Art, was invented by the culturologist Vladimir Paperny.

It is difficult to overestimate the influence of Komar and Melamid, who called themselves “children of Socialist Realism and grandchildren of the avant-garde.” They created the Sots Art movement, to which belong such major artists as Leonid Sokov, Alexander Kosolapov, and Boris Orlov, and for a time their students, such as Mikhail Roshal and Victor Skersis—in all over thirty artists at different times.

Komar and Melamid were authors of the first art performances in Moscow (“Grinding Pravda” and “Passport,” both 1976) and the first installation in Moscow (“Paradise,” 1976).  Many artists and critics consider them the first postmodernists in Russia and the founders of the Moscow Conceptualism School.

After moving to New York, they created the series “Nostalgic Socialist Realism,” 1981-1982, where they parodied the language of Socialist Realist painting. The parodic method had many followers during Perestroika. However, the artists did not limit themselves to deconstructing the authoritarian language of the propaganda industry. Their attention was focused on the various methods common in the society for depicting objects and ideas. Mounting and combining these pictures, they create a panorama of the visual unconscious, unique image matrixes that today direct the creation and perception of art.