- Painting by Numbers: Komar and Melamid's Scientific Guide to ArtOur PickBy Vitaly Komar, Aleksandr Melamid
- Komar & MelamidOur PickBy Carter Ratcliff, Vitaly Komar, Aleksandr Melamid
- Komar/Melamid. Two Soviet Dissident ArtistsBy Vitaly Komar, Aleksandr Melamid, Edited by Melvyn Bernard Nathanson
- The People's Choice: Komar and Melamid: Canada's Most Wanted and Most Unwanted PaintingsBy Aleksandr Melamid, Vitaly Komar, Bruce Grenville, Anthony Frank Kiendl
- When Elephants Paint: The Quest of Two Russian Artists to Save the Elephants of ThailandBy Vitaly Komar, Aleksandr Melamid, Mia Fineman
- Vitali Komar and Aleksandr Melamid: A Retrospective Exhibition, November 13-30, 1980By Vitaly Komar
- Komar & Melamid's American DreamsBy Aleksandr Melamid, Amy Ingrid Schlegel, Vitaly Komar, Neil K. Rector, Mark Edward Thistlethwaite
- Monumental PropagandaBy Aleksandr Melamid, Vitaly Komar
- Komar & Melamid - Death Poems: Manifesto of EclecticismNetherlands: Galerie Barbara Farber, 1988
- Komar & Melamid: Symbols of the Big Bang; Yeshiva University Museum, Center for Jewish History, October 24, 2002 - Febrary 2, 2003By Aleksandr Melamid, Vitalij Komar, Anthony Julius
- A Catalogue of Superobjects: Supercomfort for SuperpeopleOur PickBy Aleksandr Melamid, Vitaly Komar
- Pictures of People: Alice Neel's American Portrait GalleryBy Pamela Allara
- The Experimental Group: Ilya Kabakov, Moscow Conceptualism, Soviet Avant-GardesOur PickBy Matthew Jesse Jackson, Ilya Kabakov
- Brodsky & UtkinBy Alekander Brodsky, Ronald Feldman, Ilya Utkin
- Beyond Memory: Soviet Nonconformist Photography and Photo-related Works of ArtBy Diane Neumaier
- Between Spring and Summer: Soviet Conceptual Art in the Era of Late CommunismBy David A. Ross
- Sexing the Border: Gender, Art and New Media in Central and Eastern EuropeBy Katarzyna Kosmala
- The Art of Comics: A Philosophical ApproachBy Aaron Meskin, Roy T. Cook
- The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, & Human EvolutionBy Denis Dutton
- Tekstura: Russian Essays on Visual CultureBy Alla Efimova, Lev Manovich
- Soviet Emigre ArtistsBy Igor Golomshtok, Marilyn Rueschemeyer, Janet Kennedy
- Primary Documents: A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art Since the 1950sBy Ilʹâ Iosifovič Kabakov, Clay Tarica
- On the Mid-groundBy Hanru Hou
- The Red Atlantis: communist culture in the absence of communismBy J. Hoberman
- The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and BeyondOur PickBy Boris Groys
- A Passion for Cultural StudiesBy Dr. Ben Highmore
- Irony's Edge: The Theory and Politics of IronyBy Linda Hutcheon
Important Art by Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid
This composition features 166 white cubes on a red canvas background. It represents text arranged in 14 superimposed horizontal lines and encased in double quotation marks. At the bottom right of the 166 cubes, there are a further 8 smaller white cubes where one would normally expect to find the signature of the author of a quoted text. Although the painting is formally quite simple, it carries strong connotative meanings.
Quotation is an early example of Sots-Art, a term coined by Komar and Melamid in 1972 to describe a movement that critiqued the propagandist art of the Soviet Union (Sots being an abbreviation of Socialism). With this piece the artists evoke the slogan banners that were abundant in the Soviet Union during their childhoods. While the red background and the use of white for the written message remain faithful to many Soviet banners, Komar and Melamid have replaced actual letters with meaningless geometric forms, thereby neutralizing the propogandist potency of such slogans. By deconstructing the banner in this way, Komar and Melamid are attempting to lay bare the insidious mechanism of the propagandist poster art and its "blank" ideology. As the author Juan Carlos Betancourt argues, the painting "deconstructs the void over which the Soviet political rhetoric hovered", namely a rhetoric which espoused triumphant slogans meant to inspire a vision of a future utopia. The white abstract cubes also recalls the work of avant-gardists such as Kazimir Malevich who produced the type of abstractions that the Stalin administration took such exception to in the first place.
It has also been noted that the work evokes the idea of childhood memory. As Professor and Art Historian Allison Leigh-Perlman observed, the white cubes only evoke the "impression of a red banner" and thus point to "the vagueness of memory itself".
Composed of loose-leaf form, this Sots-Art work is a parody of an American mail-order catalogue advertising thirty six "objects" for sale. Each item is named after a Russian "buzzword" and is presented with promotional text and a photograph of a model. The objects on offer are not, however, garments or utilities for improved functionality or convenience, but rather unattainable and immaterial qualities such as greater self-confidence, the ability to access one's own true self, and the power to achieve a spiritual connection with others. This page, for instance, advertises Ksushna, an antenna that, when strapped to the head, allows its wearer to attain the feeling of an "invisible ideal" which, as the art historian and curator Ksenya Gurshtein suggests is "inexpressible in human language".
By portraying consumer goods that promised to deliver so much, but which in reality were just absurd and useless objects, Komar and Melamid were parodying the Soviet Union's empty promises of a Socialist utopia. Their blatant assault on the State's visual culture and its dominant role in Soviet life - in Komar's words it was "imposed on the people by a totalitarian elite" that merely advertised an "ideology" - is veiled (albeit rather thinly) through humour and playfulness. In fact, Komar called Sots Art a form of "'self-cleansing' from the hypnosis of Soviet propaganda and, primarily, a cleansing from oneself", and which was, "above all, a 'self-irony', with the idols not outside of us, but within us".
American art critic Marc Fields wrote that "Pathos [...] becomes most evident in the 'Sots Art' pieces because of the underlying assumption that American advertising and Soviet state propaganda are equivalent. This equation was somewhat useful to the artists since it blatantly devalued their government's ideological articulations. Here [in America], however, it tends to reassure those [of us] who would like to go on believing that we "engage" in ideology, just as we engage in any other social activity - that we may choose to ignore or disregard it just as we supposedly do with advertising".
At first glance, the viewer could be forgiven for thinking that the artists' were supporters of Stalin and his regime. But the absurd placement of the adult faces on the bodies of children quickly repels that suggestion. Komar and Melamid are wearing blue shorts, white shirts, rendered yellowish by the light emanating from the top left of the painting, and red neckerchiefs. This was the uniform of the "Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization" (simply "Young Pioneers") which was a youth organization (similar to the Scouting organizations in the West) that promoted communist values, and which ran between 1922 and 1991.
The pair stand upright and salute a bronze bust of Stalin, visible in the top left corner of the painting and illuminated by a mysterious source of golden light. On the right, Melamid raises his right hand to his head in salute; his left arm is glued to his side, evoking a sense of military discipline. Komar on the other hand stands with his open legs forming a triangle and with his left hand on his hip. His right arm holds a trumpet which he blows into the bust's left ear. The painting features typical communist iconography (such as red banners and drapery) but this is overridden by satirical and ironical elements. The bust of Stalin, for instance, sits on a comically tall plinth/support while his elevated sense of self-importance is reinforced by the godly light. The bust's ridiculous distance from the ground is further emphasised by the stacked furniture on which the man/boys are stood. The red drapery hung clumsily over the furniture slips away in places, thus revealing the makeshift supports underneath.
Seen as a whole narrative, Komar and Melamid's comical attempt to reach the height of the bust represents the fact that a communist utopia is out of reach, rather like castles in the sky. The curator Andrei Erofeev suggested, however, that Sots Art was possibly "too extreme" for Western tastes. He wrote, to "the art market, collectors, and any self-respecting audience [...] Komar and Melamid offer eccentricity and giggling of some vague incomprehensible author". There is, he argued, "some discomforting aloofness about them that many people in America define as a Russian look".