Komar & Melamid
1943, 1945, Moscow, USSR, now Russia; Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid worked together from 1967 to 2004, they live in New York, USA
Smooth Sailing with Lenin, 1985
oil and acrylic on canvas
In the early 1970s the artistic duo Komar and Melamid founded the Sots Art movement as a reaction against Socialist Realism, the official aesthetic doctrine of the state. Sots Art, usually described as a sort of conceptual Pop Art appropriating the visual language of socialist mass culture, was a form of nonconformist art based on combining apparently disparate styles, images, and cultures, resulting in an ironical pastiche that deconstructed the authoritarian language of the propaganda industry and debunked the ideologies that works of official Soviet art were meant to embody and promote. It examined the role of images and image-making in constructing and validating the dominant systems of power and beliefs through many different projects and series.
Smooth Sailing with Lenin was created as a part of the Nostalgic Socialist Realism series (1982–1983). The two artists employed the language of traditional Socialist Realism and blended it with contextual and aesthetic features as expressed in old painting styles. The paintings, closely connected with the artists’ ironic and nostalgic memories of their own childhood in Stalinist Moscow, depict scenes from the history of the Soviet Union: they begin with Lenin’s revolution, touch upon Stalin, and end with Khrushchev.
In the painting Smooth Sailing with Lenin different scenes and styles—an expressionistically painted sleeping homeless person, a “suprematist” image, a realistically depicted Lenin, and a collaged boat— are vertically juxtaposed in order to create / show their similarities and contradictions and question the ideology of socialist progress that most official Soviet art depicted and glorified.