The state of the Soviet artist, summed up by Solzhenitsyn in The First Circlea great writer is, so to speak, a second government of his country”is exemplified by the two dissident artists’ parodies of state art collected here for the first time.
The fate of Vitali Komar and Aleksandr Melamid, who only recently were allowed to immigrate to Israel, is well known to art critics and historians, if only from the extensive reviews of the shows of their paintings at the Feldman Gallery in New York in 1976 and 1977.
An in-depth discussion of the paintings and of the background of Soviet dissident art is provided by Jack Burnham, chairman of the Department of Art at Northwestern University, in his scholarly Introduction, Paradox and Politics: The Art of Komar and Melamid.”
For the uninitiated, the Komar-Melamid paintings (their work is a collaborative effort) no doubt will be a surprise and a delight: it is at once sprightly, intricate, and mystical. Called Sots” art (for Socialist art), it is a kind of Pop that parodies the propaganda posters and street banners designed for public consumption by Russian officialdom. The Sots subjects from the first show include the stern head of a worker holding his finger to his lips and entitled Don’t Babble,” several banners with such slogans as Glory to Labor” and Our Goal Communism,” and a painting of a Laika” cigarette pack using as its emblem the Soviet dog sent into orbit with Sputnik II” in 1957.
But Pop is only a part of these versatile artists’ repertory. From the second show, especially noteworthy are Factory for the Production of Blue Smoke,” an Arcadian scene with mystical as well as social significance; the complex TransState,” the artists’ creation of a unique form of internationalism open to any person in the world dissatisfied with his own country; and the magical Farewell to Russia.”