Komar & Melamid Critics Picks: Komar and Melamid, Moscow Museum of Modern Art

ArtForum May 22, 2019

Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid may well have been the Soviet Union’s most infamous dissident artists. Unlike most nonconformists of the early 1970s who avoided Socialist Realism and the party’s mediated ideological aesthetics, they used communism’s stock images and phrases as fodder for their work. Curated by Andrei Erofeev and Joseph Backstein, this retrospective marks the artists’ first joint project since the end of their collaboration in 2003 and highlights their absurd knack for pricking politics—and the art world—in just the right spots. Early on in this roughly chronological display is Music Writing: Passport, 1976, the performance that jump-started their international career. For this piece, the artists assigned a musical note to each letter of the Russian alphabet, then translated the rules and regulations restricting Soviet passport use into a musical composition. Their fascination with creating art by following a system connected them to the New York Conceptualists, and in hiring musicians to perform the work simultaneously in twenty cities around the world, they mobilized the very protocols that restricted their travel.

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