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Nation's Choice


Komar and Melamid

1994



This project, with its concept generated by the world acclaimed artists Vitalii Komar and Alexander Melamid, is a part of an international one. It was launched in the USA, Germany, Russia, Denmark and Finland almost at the same time. Soon, other countries are assumed to join into it. The sociometric poll was conducted by the Joint-Stock Company ULTEX Service in late May-early June 1994 in accordance with the requirements of the International Organization of Marketing Firms ESOMAR in Moscow and the Moscow Oblast (Podolsk and Ramenskoe), St.Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast (Vyborg and Tikhvin), Tula, Vladimir and Ivanovo (i.e. in the cities and towns with population of several million, about one million, one hundred thousand and over, and less than one hundred thousand residents). All together the poll has embraced 1001 respondents. During the study of public opinion ULTEX Service used the method of statistic selection based on a statistical average resident of the European part of the Russian Federation. With the help of mathematical analysis urban area inhabited by an average resident were chosen. The correspondents of ESOMAR working in those places conducted a public opinion poll "face to face". This method provides the most reliable information from different strata of population and is done in the following way: a correspondent visits every tenth apartment or house in the examined populated area (during time-off) and questions all inhabitants of an apartment or a house. Questioned is that member of the family whose birthday is closer to the poll date. Answers are very likely to be earnest since an interview and filling of a questionnaire takes place at respondents' places. Such polls conducted at residences allows to embrace a wide variety of population both as to professions and ages. There is no preference in the choice of respondents since acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors of departmental houses, hostels, etc. are forbidden to be questioned. Contacting 10 per cent of respondents after the completion of the poll ESOMAR checks how efficiently it was conducted. The questionnaires received from the correspondents are then inspected for validity and entered into the computer. A special program processes the data.

Excerpts from a catalogue

PEOPLE'S CHOICE
By Marat Guelman
This project, with its concept generated by the world acclaimed artists Vitalii Komar and Alexander Melamid, is a part of an international one. It was launched in the USA, Germany, Russia, Denmark and Finland almost simultaniously. Soon, other countries are assumed to join into it.
The idea of the project is to create a canvas based on the results of the public opinion poll.
Like many other Komar's and Melamid's projects "People's Choice" has the conventional set of attributes that are characteristic of contemporary art. There is "an author's death" that entitles an average Russian to make a choice; there is a citation that together with irony composes "the formula of post-modernism"; there is rigid determinism that places the criteria of estimation within an art work itself, and last but not least, there is the obvious social engagement of the project. Contemporary art is much criticized for being alienated from actuality, and for inability of people-in-thestreet to grasp an idea of art works. Komar and Melamid offered a brilliant manner of a dialogue with the viewers. The unquestionable identity of the "self-portrait" transformed an artist from the defendant into the judge thus putting an end, in my opinion, to the theme "Art for a People", so important for Russian culture.
A pattern of relations between an artist and a people in Russia wasn't simple. The Peredvizhniki's (the Wanderers) appeal to a people acquired a form of a protest. Leon Tolstoy sought to bring his style of thinking nearer to a people by adopting a simple way of life. Maxim Gorky became founding father of the theory of Socialist Realism with such notions as "Party spirit" and "national spirit" as cornerstones. Yet, an actual attitude of people towards creative work of those self-imposed heralds of people's will was never questioned. Despite alienation of the Russian Avant-Garde from predilections of an average workers, it gave several instances of art works discussions at factories. And it is not by chance that the most unloved art works of the Russian (as well as American) people are usually assigned to Kazimir Malevich or Liubov Popova.
Without doubt, the simplicity of the project on a par with its global character will engage public attention. We hope that very soon peoples of the majority of countries will get their self-portraits from Komar's and Melamid's hands. There won't be much risk involved in the assertion that, though varying in details, they will be indecently alike, and will serve us all a weighty argument for protecting our right to be isunderstood, unloved, to be professionals.

METHODOLOGY
This sociomentric poll was conducted by the Joint-Stock Company ULTEX Service in late May-early June 1994 in accordance with the requirements of the International Organization of Marketing Firms ESOMAR in Moscow and the Moscow Oblast (Podolsk and Ramenskoe), St.Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast (Vyborg and Tikhvin), Tula, Vladimir and Ivanovo (i.e. in the cities and towns with the population of several million residents, about one million, one hundred thousand and over, and less than one hundred thousand residents). All together the poll has embraced 1001 respondents.
During the study of public opinion ULTEX Service used the method of statistical selection based on a statistical average resident of the European part of the Russian Federation. Urban areas inhabited by statistical averages were chosen by method of mathematical analyses. When working at those places, the correspondents of ESOMAR, conducted the public opinion poll "face to face". This method provides the most reliable information from different strata of population and is done in the following way: a correspondent visits every tenth apartment or house in the populated area under examination (during time-off) and questions all inhabitants of an apartment or a house. Questioned is that member of the family whose birthday is closer to the date of the poll. Answers are very likely to be earnest since an interview and filling of a questionnaire take place at respondents' . Such polls conducted at home allow to embrace wide layers of population both as to professions and ages. There is no preference in the choice of respondents since acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors of departmental houses, hostels, etc. are forbidden to be questioned. After the completion of the poll, ESOMAR checks how efficiently it was conducted by contacting 10 per cent of respondents. The questionnaires received from the correspondents are then inspected for validity and entered into computer. A special program processes the data. Its reliability is confirmed by digital information showing the structure of respondents who participated in the poll to bring them close to statistical averages.

Komar and Melamid: on the Ideals of Democracy By Iosif Bakshtein
There is a presumption that all contemporary Russian art has come from the art of performance, like Russian literature has come from Gogol's "Greatcoat". I speak about it because Komar and Melamid are fairly regarded founding fathers of Russian performance, and that is the reason of their influence on the contemporaries and successors. As a matter of fact, all their early works with the trailblazing legendary "Paradise" were performances, and such they were long before the actions of the Collective Activities Group. "Production of Ideal Soviet Document" (1975), "Setting 'The Statute of Passports' to Music" (1976), "Telegram to Khomeini" (1979), "Selling Souls" (1979), "Art Belongs to a People" (1984)--these works instrumental for understanding of Komar's and Melamid's creativity were essentially performances. For identification of historical continuum in the 20th century art history it's important to take into account that the "second Russian avant-garde", with Sots Art invented by Komar and Melamid as its part and parcel, had much more affinity with American Pop Art than with the first Russian Avant-Garde of Malevich and Tatlin. At the same time, speaking about the role of performance in Russian culture, we can't ignore the significance of the opera "Victory over the Sun" for Malevich's oeuvre.
And still, why do we accentuate the role of performance, and to what extent can the project "Nation's Choice" be interpreted as one? Komar and Melamid were the first independent post-War artists who came to the understanding that the place of art in society (especially in that of the USSR in the 1970s ) can't be reinterpreted without comprehension of art as a meaningful social action endowed with evident aesthetic features. For Komar and Melamid performance is a social action permeated with reflection. It was this sociality and somewhat ironical self-realization as public figures that was an important element of the artists' creativity. What were their performances other than polemics with the totalitarian conception of relations between art and regime, a people and art? These artists didn't loose their interest in consecutive democratization of society in the United States either, a country well-known by its contradictions in political and cultural life. According to Komar and Melamid the US is also infected with social conflicts. There, too, the privilege to express artistic predilections is conceded on propertied classes, since only wealthy people can afford significant collections of art works, while people at large are deprived of this privilege, and their viewpoints are ignored by the society of consumption. We can only regret that artists are no exception.
The project "Nation's Choice" pursues to restore justice and to bring to life what people really think about art and what is more to their liking. Komar and Melamid, however, do not confine themselves to exploration. Becoming exponents of cultural aspirations, like true priests of democracy, they embody the aesthetic ideal of population in a canvas. They display this ideal for public viewing, thus making the society to make another look at its reflection--its new reflection in the mirror of art, this time.
"Nation's Choice" is universal due to its cross-cultural character. Multiply repeated public opinion polls and an opportunity to compare American, Russian, German and other peoples' aesthetic ideals bring radical changes into artistic life of these countries and finally improve the system of cultural institutions. Now, politicians and art officialdom can't ignore public opinion. In the same manner as according to Karl Marx's apt remark "Luther turned priests into laymen by turning laymen into priests" Komar and Melamid give everyone the chance to be heard and to be an artist.

Print media on the project

" The Nation Chooses Komar and Melamid"
A. Kovalev, "Segodnya", September 7, 1994

"Fully aware that totalitarian ideologems have totally outlived themselves, our healthy cynics are now endeavouring to decorate the edifice of Ideal Art, which they are deducing from mass consciousness."

"The Nation's Choice: Our Favourite Colour, Our Favourite Size"
E. Degot, "Commersant Daily", No. 154, August 18, 1994

"Komar and Melamid's latest idea is an invention of genius - just look how it spread worldwide with a lightning speed! Throughout these last few years, the artists have been seeking a theme of an universal scope. To all appearances, they found one now. (...) Today, they concentrate on the core of it - outstanding things have given way to statistical averages. (...) As they discerned the specificity of Russian art, they saw that it differed only negligibly from any other. Komar and Melamid's permanent strategy aims at the destruction of all claims at everything unique, be it the Soviet regime or anything else. Their universality lies in an atheistic negation of the universal."

"Melamid Minus Komar Was Eager to See the Last Tsar"
S. Kesoyan, "Inostranets", August 31, 1994

"Komar and Melamid's project rests on a sociometric poll which results in an exquisite canvas - their country's self-portrait."

M. Bogatyreva, "New Time", No. 37, 1994

"Komar and Melamid have taken to globe-trotting. In passing, they will paint now fine canvases, now inferior ones, one day to produce their masterpiece of an universal purport."

"The Majority Will Save Everything"
Е. Veselaya,: Moscow News", No. 35, August-September 1994

"To quote Vitali Komar, artists must see that they live for the public's sake, not the other way round. Instead of stubbornly declaring that they are the chosen few, they ought to cling to their native soil, and reverentially hearken to the opinions of the majority. 'The majority will save the world, the economy, morals - everything. You won't listen to the majority. Hence all your problems,' says the Sots artist."

"Kuranty", August 31, 1994

"The artists want to portray what the nation actually wants to see in a canvas."

"Lenya Golubkov, TV Commercials' Mannikin, Sits for Ilya Glazunov"
M. Vardenga, "Argumenty i Fakty"

"Komar and Melamid, these renowned avantgarde artists and founding fathers of Sots Art, launched their Project Nation's Choice at the Centre of Modern Art. An artist ought to paint proceeding from opinion poll returns. Herein lies the essence of their endeavour.
"The project was previously tested in the USA, when a picture was painted, based on the results of an opinion probe of 48 states. Now this canvas is in Washington, D.C., and a copy in Moscow.
"Project Nation's Choice is the two artists' response to the widely current complaints that contemporary art is aloof to the actuality, and defies understanding of the people-in-the-street. To quote Marat Gelman, what Komar and Melamid are offering is a brilliant version of an artist's dialogue with the viewers, in which the artist is no longer the defendant but the judge. The public now received its long-desired self-portrait. From now on, this portrait will be a weighty argument for the artist who defends his right to be misunderstood and unloved - in a word, to be a professional.
"Before, we intended to limit the experiment to America, Russia and Germany. Now we are going to extend it to Africa and China, with prospects of a Canvas for Humanity."

"Nation's Choice: Authors Chosen"
S. Belyaeva-Konegen,"Commersant Daily"

"Russians cannot practically identify themselves with any particular country or state, or even what we know as place of residence.
"Alas, there is no integrated image of the world - its culture, in particular - in the mind of the contemporary Russian viewer."



12.12.1994
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