27 May 2012
A Knock at the Door, from Nostalgic Socialist Realism series, indistinctly signed, also further signed, titled and dated 1982–83 on the reverse.
Tempera and oil on canvas, 183 by 119.5 cm.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by V. Komar.
Exhibited: Business as Usual, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, January–February 1984.
Literature: C. Ratcliff, Komar & Melamid, New York, Abbeville Press, 1988, p. 141, pl. 131, illustrated.
For Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid the beginning of the 1980s was an unusually important time. It was then that this interesting artistic duo set about creating their most interesting series of works, entitled Nostalgic Socialist Realism. The canvasses in this series, which emulate the technique of the best known academic painters of Stalin’s time, most notably Alexander Laktionov, are distinguished by their smooth glazed brushwork, attention to artificial lighting and special academic ‘finish’. The half-gloom of dwellings built during Stalin’s rule, with tablecloths, curtains and pseudo-Empire furniture lit in harsh patches by table lamps, confronts the viewer with that particular, solemnly threatening world of the totalitarian system. The artists skilfully combined technically accomplished execution, common to the art of socialist realism, with the conceptualist grotesque of images characteristic of pop art, which was in turn transformed into Sots Art in this amusing interpretation.
A Knock at the Door was finished in the same memorable year that the artists’ paintings were acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum. It is one of the best works of the Nostalgic Socialist Realism series and a typical example of Sots Art. This work, concise in terms of areas of colour, is outlandishly tragicomic. It is filled with symbols of the Soviet era: the green lamp à la Lenin in the shape of a toadstool with its lampshade like a cap, and the half-gloom, as if reviving images of Ilyich working in the half-gloom of his study filled with books and, lastly, the book in its red binding, worthy of accommodating the ideas of one of the leaders of the proletariat, which lies on the table covered by a cloth of historic red.
Another symbol of Stalinism is the fear which has driven the occupant of the room under the table. Strictly observing all the socialist rituals and surrounding himself with symbols of the communist faith have not protected him from the sinister terror that has arrived with the midnight knock at the door. Komar and Melamid denied that this and other works were intended to be critical, pointing out that fear is an ecumenical reality: “Fear governs the Soviet Union in the same way it does the United States”, they argued: “The KGB and Stalin are only symbols personifying an ageless social phobia...” The artists define the character of A Knock at the Door as sensitively nostalgic. This is a memorial-painting which is steeped in the era of Stalin, but not the events which brought that era about to begin with.
Notes on symbols:
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