KOMAR & MELAMID: Desperately Seeking A Masterpiece
October 4 – December 14, 2003
Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art
This fall, the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art will host an exhibition entitled, “Komar & Melamid: Desperately Seeking A Masterpiece.” In this exhibition the Russian duo Komar & Melamid (Vitaly Komar, (b. 1943), and Alexander Melamid, (b.1945) now based in New York, introduce two of their latest projects: “People’s Choice” and “Elephant Art.”
The “myth of the artist” might be formulated as “A masterpiece must be created through artistic inspiration and human genius, and requires intentionality, outstanding technique, and imagination.” But Komar & Melamid have challenged this myth, asserting that the origins of art may lie elsewhere. This challenge comes in the form of two original concepts: art in response to the preferences of a random group of people, and art by animals in this case, paintings made by intelligent elephants. Through the selection and display of these unorthodox works, this exhibition seeks to offer a new perspective on the origins and future direction of fine art.
The “People’s Choice” project led to the production of two categories of paintings: a “Most Wanted” group of works and a “Least Wanted” collection. Criteria governing concept, style, motif, color, brush strokes, and so on were established through random telephone surveys within a given country. Beginning in the United States in 1993, “Most Wanted” and “Least Wanted” paintings have now been generated based on the preferences of respondents from fourteen additional countries: Russia, Ukraine, Finland, Denmark, France, Turkey, Iceland, Kenya, China, Portugal, Holland, Italy, Germany, and Austria. In this exhibition, works based on Japanese responses will now join the collection. Further information on this project is available at the following website:
“ Elephant Art” began in 1998 out of the artists’ interest in Thai elephants and their handlers, or mahouts. These elephants had been used in forestry but were no longer needed due to a 1990 ban on deforestation. After travelling to Thailand and visiting various camps where these elephants were kept, Komar and Melamid chose to begin their project at the Lampang camp, where they found elephants living in relatively good conditions, well cared for by their mahouts.
The artists set about teaching the elephants to paint and, with the cooperation of the mahouts, the elephants proved surprisingly adept at using their trunks to manipulate the brushes, creating abstract paintings with graceful brush strokes. The first elephant art school was thus established in Lampang; later, centers opened in Phuket and Ayutthaya, and there are plans to open another in northeast Surin this year. Since its inception, the project has extended to India, Indonesia, Cambodia, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Further details on this project can be found at
In 2000, fifty elephant paintings were offered for auction at Christie’s Auction House in New York, and all of these paintings sold. In this exhibition huge murals, 3 m x 8 m, created by the most talented of the Thai elephants, will be on display. Further, on weekends, museum visitors can also see the elephants from the “Ichihara Elephant Kingdom” learn to use brushes and paint.
The exhibition will be both entertaining and thought-provoking. Are these “paintings by survey” really works of art? On what basis can we claim to understand works generated by elephants? These works once again call into question the links between art, science, religion, and society.
Sumi Hayashi, curator
Norie Kaiya, PublicistKawamura Memorial Museum of Art
631 Sakado, Sakura, Chiba 285-8505 JAPAN