Through humor, Alexander Melamid makes his distaste for the art world known. In a January 2013 exhibition at (Art) Amalgamated, he gathered famous portraits of 20th-century icons including Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso, sprinkled them with sugar, and dipped them in a deep-fryer. On top of his conviction that the art world is corrupt, the Russian-born artist believes that the abundance of art being created today is wasteful. “Art is not only physical pollution, it’s intellectual pollution. Spiritual pollution. I belong to the down-the-drain generation,” he told the New York Times this fall. This idea was manifest in his most recent exhibition, “The Art of Plumbing” at Vohn Gallery in New York, where the artist took a literal approach to waste and pollution by creating installations and paintings that entwined high art and sewage systems.
While the exhibition may recall iconic artworks like Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) and Piero Manzoni’s Merda d’artista (1961), Melamid departs from his forebears, presenting satirical works that picture the physical elements that comprise plumbing systems. At the center of the gallery space a urinal was installed and connecting to New York’s sewage system, which was surrounded by Melamid’s oil paintings of pipes. Not only did he picture drains, U-bends, O-rings, and flush valves, among various other relevant pieces of hardware, they were rendered in a classical manner, and in most cases, these objects were the foreground of a recreation of an art-historical work. In one painting a curved brass pipe is paired with Picasso’s iconic Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), while in two others silver pipes are set against Jackson Pollock splatter paintings. While revealing the inner-workings of mass sanitation to the art world, Melamid also cheekily explains that they are meant to “[please] the aesthetic sense of New York’s discriminating viewers.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, and in the same vein, Melamid has been planning a plumbing-themed libretto, titled Der O-Ring des Nibelungen. A playful take on the classic Wagner opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen, where a magical ring is lost, Melamid’s version revolves around an O-ring, which keeps the plumbing system running smoothly, and—like Melamid’s artworks—aims to keep waste from taking over civilization.