The Ben Uri Gallery will present a seminal, monumental installation by the Russian born artists Komar and Melamid this Autumn. The work from 1986-87 has not been represented in public since the show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1990. Both artists graduated from the Stroganov Institute of Arts and Design in Moscow in 1967 when they first exhibited together. In 1972, they created ‘Sots Art’ the Russian version of Pop Art which merged Socialist Realism, politicized Pop, and Conceptual art. In 1974, they were arrested during an outdoor exhibition in Moscow.
It became known as “The Bulldozer Exhibition,” because the government used bulldozers to destroy the artworks. In 1974, they were also expelled from the youth section of the Soviet Artists Union. In 1976, they had their first exhibition at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York. The work for this exhibition had to be smuggled into the USA. In 1977, they emigrated to Israel and created a work titled ‘The Third Temple’. In 1978, they settled in New York and founded the Society of Buyers and Sellers of Human Souls working with Warhol and others. In 1981-83, they created work reflecting the origins of Russian social realism from which this major sardonic and ground breaking installation emerged.
Their career together until 2003 and individually since is synonymous with challenging establishment and traditional thinking with a cutting wit and piercing satire in a post Soviet and perestroika world. The Ben Uri collection has a fine example from their ‘Symbols of the Big Bang’ series from 2001-2003.
Russian-born artists Vitaly Komar (b. 1943) and Alexander Melamid (b. 1945) created these important works, originally viewed in 1987 in a different form at the Documenta 8 international art exhibition in Kassel, West Germany. The first work to be seen upon entering the space will be the freestandingYalta 1945, into which are cut porticos that one may walk through to experience Winter in Moscow 1977 hanging on the Lobby back wall. Each work is executed in mixed media and stands twelve feet high by sixty feet long.
Yalta 1945 is a monumental work composed of 31 panels, each four-foot-square. The first panel is a cropped image of Lenin gesturing with a closed fist, above which are the letters USSU, for the United States and the Soviet Union. In another, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt are seated at the Yalta Conference. Stalin is portrayed in the Socialist Realist style, a commentary on the dictator’s imposition of that art form in the Soviet Union. The two Western leaders are portrayed in the Western, Abstract Expressionist style prevalent at that time.
Winter in Moscow 1977 contrasts with Yalta 1945 in its chaotic placement of panels and its concentration on the artists’ personal world. Here, 26 panels combine to form a skyline shape framing numerous scenes of private life like the cold Moscow winter when Komar and Melamid left the Soviet Union. Along with images of a typical snowy Moscow street, a New Year’s tree, and a page from a Soviet storybook, nude women are depicted as symbols of erotic adolescent fantasies.
Komar and Melamid met in 1963 as students in the Moscow Higher Institute of Art and Industrial Design (also known as the Stroganov Institute). They began to collaborate on works of art in 1965 and graduated from the Institute two years later. In 1977 they emigrated to Israel, and the following year they moved to New York. They became United States citizens in 1987.