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New Left Review I/185, January-February 1991


Peter Wollen

Scenes from the Future: Komar & Melamid

‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying, and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’ Gramsci’s famous dictum, written in his prison notebook in 1930, [1] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, London 1971. seems to describe two apparently disparate situations—the Soviet Union, plunged into its long succession crisis, which began after the death of Stalin, and now entering an unpredictable and chaotic new phase; and (in the West) the succession crisis of a dying modernism, whose ‘great variety of morbid symptoms’ have been given the provisional name of ‘post-modernism’. The two are intimately linked, however, in the trajectory of Komar & Melamid, two Soviet artists, formed in the post-Stalin epoch, who arrived in New York just in time to find themselves potential ‘postmodernists’. In fact, their artistic careers are now more or less evenly divided in extent between the Soviet Union and the United States. They date their first collaborative work from 1965, when they were both students at the Stroganov Institute of Art and Design in Moscow; they left the Soviet Union twelve years later, in 1977, and (after a year in Israel) arrived in New York in 1978. [2] For an account of Komar & Melamid’s career, see Carter Ratcliff, Komar & Melamid, New York 1988. Melvyn B. Nathanson, ed., Komar/Melamid, Two Soviet Dissident Artists, Carbondale 1979, provides a detailed treatment of their early Soviet work.

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