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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

People's Choice: A Blue Landscape

Modern politicians live and die by opinion polls, shaping their policies and sometimes losing face, or office, depending on the results. Artists should do the same -- or at least that is what two ?migr? painters have come home to prove.

Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid have come to Moscow from New York to open an exhibit called "People's Choice," in which the pair will display works they executed based on the results of an opinion poll conducted in May and June. The poll, carried out by a Moscow-based firm called New Found Quality, asked 1,001 Russians their views on a wide range of artistic and social subjects. The idea is to give the masses final say on what makes for good art. "It used to be that a conservative minority judged what is and what is not art," Komar said at an impromptu press conference Friday on Pushkin Square. "That did not work. Only the vast, silent majority can judge."

Komar was referring to the not-so-distant past when Soviet officials had the last word on what artists could paint, sculpt and write. In fact, Komar and Melamid were two of the most notorious dissident artists of the 1970s. Because of their ironic depictions of Soviet icons -- Melamid once painted a portrait of his father in the style of a medal stamped with Lenin's likeness -- the pair were almost constantly hassled by Soviet censors.

In 1977 they managed to emigrate to Israel. Now Komar and Melamid live in New York.

Their hearts, however, have remained close to Moscow. Komar, the more forthcoming of the two artists, says that they returned to bring art to all people -- "to the crowd," as he says.

Irony has always pervaded the art of Komar and Melamid, and this project is no exception. The results of the survey are presented in a businesslike blue folder, but humor is never far from the surface. If anything, this exhibit should be called "Art by Focus Group": It will show what kind of art you will end up with if you give the people exactly what they ask for. And in the survey, the crowd speaks. Asked what color they liked to see in a painting, 24 percent of respondents said blue and 22 percent green. Sixty-six percent prefer landscapes -- especially if a forest is involved. Only 4 percent favored abstract art, and a whopping 90 percent preferred realism.

Russian art, of all kinds, is fancied by 58 percent, with 21 percent giving the nod to European art and 1 percent American. A painting should be about the size of a television screen, say 45 percent of the people. The most popular artist is 19th century Russian painter Ilya Repin: 85 percent of respondents like him. Picasso gets a 39.5 percent approval rating, although a full 27 percent do not care for his work.

The questions were on a range of other subjects. With whom would you like to have lunch? Thirty-six percent said with an actor. Is it important to you how you dress? Fifty-nine percent say yes, very.

But how do the numbers translate into art? "You will have to wait for our exhibit," says Komar. He did divulge that most of the works will be graphics.

The show opens Friday at the Guelman Gallery. Marat Guelman, one of Moscow's most inventive gallery owners, has a history with Komar and Melamid. Last year, he helped organize a display called "What Should be Done With Soviet Monuments?" that attracted the ?migr? duo a host of American, Russian, French and Israeli artists.

It was Guelman who deposited Komar and Melamid among the masses on Pushkin Square only hours after their plane arrived last week.

"The idea is to meet in the street," Guelman says. "You can't invite everyone out to Sheremetyevo. Here, simple people can come up to the artists and discuss their ideas with them."

Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid's "People's Choice" opens Friday at Guelman Gallery, 2/6 Bolshaya Yakimankaya Ulitsa. The gallery is open from noon to 6 P.M., closed Mondays.