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Vitaly Komar
Selected Catalogues
   Weinstein, Andrew, ed. "Vitaly Komar: Three-Day Weekend," The Humanities Gallery, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. New York, New York,  2005.
 
  Artist Statement from the Three-Day Weekend Catalogue
 
 

The Three-Day Weekend, for me, is a symbol of peaceful coexistence of different peoples and different concepts of faith and spirituality: Friday for Muslims, Saturday for Jews and Sunday for Christians. People of all other faiths, from Bahai to Buddhism, and atheists, too, can join all three days. This three-day weekend doesn’t mean that people do nothing. They can dedicate themselves to love, family, and creativity, and even to establishing small family-type businesses as an alternative to big corporations. The idea to create ecumenical symbols in the form of universal mandalas originated in childhood dreams. It continues the search of the nonconformist art of my youth. In these mandalas, I unite ancient symbols of spirituality with historical and personal images.

My imagination unites images and concepts that are distant and seemingly opposite. I first saw a picture of the Yalta Conference, an image that was banned in the Soviet Union, in the 1980s in New York. Afterwards, for many years I could not understand why I was so haunted by it. Back then, I made several paintings on this theme. In the first, I transformed Roosevelt’s face into the face of E.T. – a child and alien in America who is from another planet and possibly a different political system.

Two years ago, while looking through old family photographs, I discovered a portrait of me with my mother and father that was my favorite in childhood but which I had long since forgotten. My father is dressed in his military uniform. It was taken shortly after the end of the Second World War, and it was the last time that the three of us were together. I was six, my parents would soon be divorced, and my father would shortly leave Moscow. I never saw him again.

When I saw this portrait, I suddenly thought about the image of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. Placing these two photographs side by side, I realized that the picture of Yalta had haunted me because unconsciously I saw in it a forgotten picture of my family. In the depths of my memory, these two pictures had become superimposed. I understood also that the image of E.T. in my old painting was a self-portrait; it was me – a Russian Jew, an alien from a different world.

The main reason for my parents’ divorce was that the Jewish traditions of my mother’s family could not coexist peacefully with my father’s Christian ones. For me, these two photographs became a symbol of a fragile unity – the unity of the Allies just before the Cold War, and of my family not long before my parents’ divorce. An old, naïve dream of a happy family, of peaceful coexistence between peoples, ethnic groups, and religions, came back to me through these pictures.

During my Soviet childhood, a weekend lasted only one day – Sunday. This caused a great deal of hardship for my Jewish grandparents, who had difficulty obtaining permission to move their free day from Sunday to Saturday. After Stalin’s death, the government instituted a two-day weekend. I was a teenager then, but even now, the two-day weekend – Saturday and Sunday – seems to me a symbol of the peaceful coexistence of Judaism and Christianity. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, to add one more flower to this bouquet – Friday – to include Abdul, my Tartar classmate, whose Muslim family lived in our building?

These visions and dreams were typical of our small circle of nonconformist artists, the friends of my youth. We would drink, recite poetry, and talk about Sots Art (Soviet Pop/Conceptual art) and dukhovka (spiritual questions) until sunrise. Sots Art was a kind of ironical iconoclasm, where dukhovka, a slang expression of Moscow’s bohemia, expressed a dream of an ecumenical mysticism. I’ve always loved Gogol’s cocktail of irony and mysticism. In the beginning of the 1970s, in a multi-stylistic installation called Paradise, Alex Melamid and I tried to combine Sots Art and dukhovka in one, synthetic work. I dreamed of making symbols that united heraldry and mandalas, irony and spirituality, symbols that would genuinely represent the peaceful coexistence of peoples and religions, something that the state emblems – the hammer and sickle, the various state eagles – did not actually accomplish. Unfortunately, Paradise, which was housed in my father’s-in-law apartment, was dismantled on the order of state authorities.

We were constantly surrounded by Soviet pop culture – state-sponsored official art and visual propaganda. Publications, exhibitions, and sales of art were controlled by the Soviet government. Under these circumstances, pursuing money and fame meant selling your soul to the devil. Out of principle, many of us chose to make our living as something other than artists. We made art “for the soul,” during free times and weekends. The two days seemed too short that I dreamed of having at least one more “creative day.” My utopia of the three-day weekend was dangerous. This idea could have united people more effectively than Marxism. The idea of the peaceful coexistence of different ideologies was viewed by the government as anti-Soviet propaganda. The common enemy of totalitarian atheistic fundamentalism, which has nothing to do with the skepticism of Western intellectuals, united us with various dissident groups. I think that Hitler, the common enemy, united the superstars of the Yalta conference in a similar way. In the future, friends, not enemies, must bring us together.

The search for spirituality in art, begun by Kandinsky during the flowering of the Russian avant-garde, was interrupted first by Stalin, and later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, by the advent of the capitalist free market. I never imagined that my artist friends and I would be transformed from the so-called avant-garde of spiritual and intellectual life to the avant-garde of real estate. At the beginning of the 21st century, both in Russia and in the West, we have gained much, but we have forgotten much, too, just as I had forgotten my childhood photograph.

Nostalgia for the nonconformist art of my youth made me return to its unfulfilled dreams and experiments. The painting of E.T. was part of the Nostalgic Socialist Realism series, made with my old friend Alex. But when I began uniting symbols of spirituality with childhood photographs of me and my parents, I embarked on a deeply personal work. Today, I understand the concept of artistic collaboration very broadly. I continue to collaborate with art history, and with the nonconformist art of my youth.

At some point during work on these photographs, a face – mine or one of the others – appeared in the center of some of the mandalas. These accidents gave me the idea of making stained-glass and painted panels with a mirror or a hole in the center of the mandala. Visitors who would like to participate in this project can see their reflection in the mirror or place their faces in the opening of the mandala. I will photograph them with a camera and made ID-like, pocket-sized mandala portraits. In this way, spectators can establish a personal connection with eternal symbols of spirituality and the concept of the Three-Day Weekend. I invite everybody to make an appointment and become Friends of the Three-Day Weekend Society.

The exhibition and publication of these symbols will be the initial step in the creation and promotion of this not-for-profit society.

Vitaly Komar

Vitaly Komar: Biography

Vitaly Komar was born in Moscow, U.S.S.R., in 1943, graduated from the Stroganov School of Art and Design in 1967, and has been living in New York since 1978. He was one of the founders of the Sots Art movement (Soviet Pop/Conceptual art) and among the pioneers of postmodernist multi-stylistic installations and diptychs, triptychsm and polytychs (1972-1973).

On various conceptual projects ranging from painting and performance to installation, public sculpture, photography, and poetry, Komar worked in collaboration with Alex Melamid from 1973-2003. In 1974, he was arrested during a performance of Art Belongs to the People, and later that same year, on September 15th, Komar and Melamid's work along with the works of other nonconformist artists was destroyed by Soviet authorities at an open-air exhibition that came to be known as the Bulldozer Exhibition. As a result, they left Russia.

In the 1980s, Komar and Melamid continued their Sots Art with the Nostalgic Socialist Realism series of paintings and the multi-stylistic series Diary and Anarchistic Synthesis. They were the first Russian artists to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (1982) and to be invited to a Documenta exhibition (1987).

Komar and Melamid collaborated with the conceptual video artist Douglas Davis on Questions New York/Moscow in 1976 (collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); with Fluxus musician Charlotte Moorman on Passport in 1976 (Ronald Feldman Gallery); with Pop artist Andy Warhol on We Buy and Sell Souls in1978-79 (private collection, Moscow); with dozens of Soviet public artists through interventions with their defunct monuments on Monumental Propaganda in 1993 (traveling show, Independent Curators, Inc.); with the masses and Marttila & Kiley Poll Company on Most Wanted and Most Unwanted Paintings in 1994; with composer Dave Soldier on an opera about Washington, Lenin, and Duchamp, Naked Revolution, in 1997 (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and The Kitchen, New York); with painter Renee the elephant in 1995; and with photographer Mikki the chimpanzee in 1998 (Russian pavilion at Venice Biennale, 1999).

After Symbols of the Big Bang, a quest for spirituality in science and natural forces, was exhibited at the Yeshiva University Museum (New York, 2002-03), Komar started Three-Day Weekend, uniting symbols of different faiths and concepts of spirituality with childhood photographs of his parents and himself. This deeply personal work marked the end of his collaboration with Melamid. But the artist understands the concept of artistic collaboration very broadly. "I continue collaborating with art history," says Komar, "with the nonconformist art of my youth and its unfulfilled dreams and experiments."

 
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