Searching for Melamid

most700I heard a reference to Alex Melamid today, on a repeat NPR show — the TED Talk series. Alexander Melamid is the supposed Russian-born artist who collaborated with a Vitaly Komar in 1994 in a project which claimed to survey people around the world about what their favorite painting would look like, and then generate paintings to fit.

You’ve heard of this, right? It was an article in The Nation in March 1994, followed by a paint-by-numbers publication and a website.

A New York Times article of September 2014 outlines another odd project of Melamid’s — art based on plumbing:

–and the journalist, while asking questions that indicate she knows that his ideas are intentionally outrageous, seems to assume that he is who he says he is.

He even has an Encyclopedia Brittanica entry, with his sidekick Komar:

And he has a photo and biographical information on the site of a publication, Artenol — the name is claimed to be inspired by Tylenol — which includes photo and bios from a number of collaborators:

All well and good, but when the painting-for-the-masses article ran in The Nation twenty years ago, the editors appeared to acknowledge that the names Komar and Melamid were invented. They printed a letter to the editor which read:

“I greatly enjoyed your humor issue. Congratulations to whoever thought up the names for the “emigre artists.” “Komar” and “Melamid” sound like new miracle plastics from Du Pont.” — Dennis Cassidy, Portland Ore.  (The Nation, Letters, May 16 1994) (I paid the blasted ten bucks to be able to access the archive)

The editors also refer to readers who “got it.”

So it seems Melamid is an assumed name, a Yes Man before his time; but with the Yes Men, the internet has caught on, and one can find information about their actual names. Melamid, whoever he is, seems to have created an unchallenged persona.