May 01, 2023

Komar and Melamid

Komar and Melamid
"The Essence of Truth (Grinding Pravda)," 1975.

“Komar and Melamid: A Lesson in History” brings to light and life the comedic artist pair Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid’s work from the early 1970s in Moscow and then in New York through 2003, when, like a married couple, they broke up and went their separate ways. Though the chockful catalog’s illustrations are fine, seeing the exhibit in person in the terrific Zimmerli Art Museum on Rutgers’ main campus should be everyone’s preference.

For one, the other exhibits serendipitously give Komar and Melamid’s satiric work artistic and historical context: there are excellent pieces from Zimmerli’s permanent collections, short-term exhibits, and, most conspicuously, the paintings and sculpture from the museum’s Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union. Before I went downstairs into the main part of the Komar and Melamid exhibit, I wandered along a hallway past posters of actual unironic Soviet propaganda featuring “Papa” Stalin and “Divine” Lenin. But even better, because they’re actual sincere art, are the Dodge Collection paintings that knocked me out, among them Boris Sveshinkov’s “Autumn” (1950), Oskar Rabin’s “Lianozovo” (1960) and Dmitrii Krasnopevtsev’s suave, spare “Untitled” (1961).

In person, we perceive and appreciate the size, proportions, and alternately homemade and professional finish of Komar and Melamid’s work. The grand “Minotaur” (1991), for example, is impressive in size and construction.

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