Blindman's Buff

Artist: Komar & Melamid (American, born Russia)

Artist: Alexander Melamid (American, born Moscow, 1945)

Artist: Vitaly Komar (American, born Moscow, 1943)

Date: 1982–83

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 72 x 47 in. (182.9 x 119.4 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Anonymous Gift, 1991

Accession Number: 1991.466


Vitaly Komar and Aleksandr Melamid first met in 1963 as students at the Stroganov Institute of Art and Design in Moscow. They began collaborating in 1965, while still students, in a lecture and performance on the history of Russian art. After graduating, they participated in several avant-garde exhibitions, and were eventually expelled from the Moscow Union of Artists. They emigrated to Israel in 1977 and a year later moved to New York, where they continued to work together in a variety of media, from painting and sculpture to performance pieces, installation art, and posters for public display. They became American citizens in 1988, and their art continued to critique the totalitarian regime under which they had formerly lived.

From 1980 to 1983, Komar and Melamid painted more than two dozen canvases called the "Nostalgic Socialist Realism" series. Socialist Realism was the prescribed method for the official art of the Soviet Union, promoting an academic style and imagery that idealized the everyday life of the proletariat and glorified the dictator Joseph Stalin. In their parodies of Socialist Realism, which played on the subjects and styles of official art, Komar and Melamid made ironic commentaries on the propaganda of Communism.

Blindman's Buff is a domestic scene depicting two people playing the traditional party game of the title: a schoolgirl is blindfolded, trying to find and catch the man in military uniform who crouches behind the table. Although the subject is ostensibly lighthearted, the drab colors and emptiness of the room, overshadowed by a portrait of Stalin prominently displayed on the wall, give the scene a somber atmosphere. The stark lighting and billowing drapery of the curtain recall the formal excesses of seventeenth-century Baroque painting, in which saints regularly received visions and witnessed miracles. Here, however, the young heroine can see neither her companion nor the light from the window. In this work, Komar and Melamid satirize an earlier era in art history, as well as the oppressiveness of daily life in the Soviet Union, where public access to information was severely restricted.