Upon graduating from Moscow’s Stroganov School of Art and Design in 1967, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid forged an artistic partnership that would last 36 years. At the forefront of the Soviet Nonconformist Art movement, they participated in exhibitions with other young Russian artists who renounced the strict artistic dogma of Socialist Realism. In 1972 Komar and Melamid founded Sots Art, mixing the aesthetics of Pop Art and Socialist Realism with the satirical radicalism of Dada. Soon after the artists suffered reprisals by the Soviet authorities, including arrests and the destruction of their work. This also brought them to the attention of the American art world and in 1976 they were invited to hold their first international exhibition in New York. Initially denied permission to travel, eventually the artists were allowed to move to Israel, from where they emigrated to New York in 1978.
In New York, Komar and Melamid continued to produce paintings alongside more experimental artworks, including installations and performance pieces. By the mid-1980s they had achieved international fame and their work was on display in many of the world’s greatest art museums. The duo disbanded their collaboration in 2003 but both continue to live and work in New York City.
From satirical depictions of Stalin and Lenin, to their project from 1994–97 using international surveys to deduce The Most Wanted Paintings, Komar and Melamid’s light-hearted and humorous style belies their serious commentary on the capitulation of art to Cold War politics.
You can read more about one of their works, Laika Cigarette Box, in the ESPIONART post, ‘One Giant Leap for Dogkind‘. A full chronology and selections from the duo’s archive are also available online.
Image: Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, The Origins of Socialist Realism, from the series Nostalgic Realism, 1983. Oil on canvas, 183.5 x 122 cm. Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union. Courtesy Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers