GUILFORD >> Alex Melamid is one of the most brilliant artists to come out of the late 20th century, and on Sunday evening, July 31, after a potluck outdoor supper, he will speak at the Organ Barn at Guilford — the featured guest kicking off the Kopkind Colony's summer session for journalists and activists. The event is free and open to all (who are urged to bring a covered dish to share).
The title of his talk is "Against Fear!"
Melamid has been called a revolutionary, a genius, a madman. He is, for sure, a Russian artist, living in New York since the late 1970s and now founding editor of Artenol, a magazine that asks, Why is today's art so meaningless, and what can bring art back (or at least close) to its senses?
Melamid gained world renown beginning in the early 1970s when, with Vitaly Komar, he founded the Soviet Realist Pop art movement, Sots Art, which satirized Soviet Socialist Realism and expressed a dark sense of the absurd. Rebellious by nature, Komar and Melamid refused to call themselves "dissident artists" while in the Soviet Union, and once in the US resisted Western pop art's love affair with market capitalism, as represented by their nearest contemporary, Andy Warhol. For almost 40 years Komar and Melamid defied boundaries of conceptual art, pop art, representational art, even art as a uniquely human activity, founding a school for elephant painters in Thailand.
Their work is in the collections of great museums in New York and around the world. In 2003 the duo split for individual pursuits. Melamid, a gorgeous painter and wildly original thinker, has always been interested in the mechanics of power — who orders, who obeys and at what cost — including the power of the art world. Artenol, which debuted last year, takes the radical position of being written by spectators for spectators in prose that is rousing and readable — a kind of outsider art in its own right.
In an article in an early issue of the magazine titled "Why Is Today's Art So Meaningless?" he wrote: "We are paying for the sins of the 20th century's ideological movements — from capitalism's icy laissez-faire to North Korea's quasi-religious juche. All of these promised freedom and happiness. What we have instead, following the destruction of moral and ethical conventions and the rejection of traditional skills, is nothing less than enslavement. Consider Jackson Pollock. That first splash of paint, when the brush was still in the air, must have felt incredibly liberating. But as soon as the paint hit the canvas, Pollock was trapped — every day for the rest of his life, he was destined to splash, splash, splash, with no way out. His act of defiance ultimately became an unbearably idiotic routine, sentencing him to years of artistic solitary confinement ... The art world demands sacrifices. Cease to do the time, and you are out."
This is the eighteenth summer for Kopkind, a living memorial to the late journalist and Guilford resident Andrew Kopkind, who wrote on politics and culture with a matchless style and depth for national and international publications until his death, in 1994. The project in his memory brings together political writers, artists, organizers and filmmakers from across the country and the world for a week of political discussion, cultural exchange, intellectual stimulation and rest.
The theme of this year's session for journalists and activists, coming amid widespread attention to inequality and political brutishness, is Bread and Roses. A hundred years ago the firebrand Rose Schneiderman said, "What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life and the sun and music and art ... The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too." The phrase, made in the context of the demand for women's suffrage, was picked up by striking immigrant workers in Lawrence, Mass., in 1912.
Its sentiment is no less true today. People want bread, and roses, too.
"Years ago, when Alex and I collaborated on a project that resulted in Komar and Melamid's Peoples Choice and my book Painting by Numbers," Kopkind's board president and program director JoAnn Wypijewski said, "We talked a lot about how contemptuous the official art world is to what people want. Even to ask the question, 'If you could have anything in a painting, what would it be?' was considered sacrilegious. When we did focus groups and town hall meetings people were a little afraid to talk, afraid to be wrong. And when majorities of one third of the world's population (the project centered on statistically legit polls) said they wanted blue landscapes, the realm of curators and art reviewers etc. mostly said the people were stupid. The art world demands sacrifices of the spectators, too, and since the art world is also the world of money and power and position, it's a reflection of the whole system, including the political system of course. So many years later, Alex continues to incite and entertain and make us all think — a perfect match for Kopkind!"
The potluck on July 31 will begin at 5:30 p.m., with Melamid's talk to follow in the Organ Barn, all at 158 Kopkind Road in Guilford. For more information or directions, contact 802-254-4859, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.