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Soviet Constitution, Freedom of Speech Chapter, ideological abstraction

Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

Soviet Constitution, Freedom of Speech Chapter, ideological abstraction

Artist: Vitaly Komar (Born in Moscow, Russia (formerly the USSR), 1943)
Artist: Alexander Melamid (Born in Moscow, Russia (formerly the USSR), 1945)
Culture: Russian; American
Date: 1974
Medium: Tempera on unprimed canvas
Dimensions:
83 x 39 inches (210.8 x 99.1 cm)
Classification: Painting
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. Andrew J. Feldman
Label Text:In this work, the artistic duo Komar and Melamid have translated each letter of the Cyrillic alphabet (as well as punctuation marks) into a color, which they have then used to ‘write’ article 129 of the 1936 Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This article lays out the various freedoms of speech guaranteed to Soviet citizens, including freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and rallies, and freedom of street processions and demonstrations. By encoding this text without providing a key, the artists have obscured the work’s meaning, highlighting the meaninglessness of the original text. The 1936 Constitution served as propaganda, and freedom of speech was not a protected right in Stalin’s USSR, nor during the era of Leonid Brezhnev, when this work was created. Similarly, artists were required to work in the state-sanctioned Social Realist style or risk persecution and the destruction of their work. In 1976, this painting made it through Soviet customs mistaken as a tablecloth to be included in a show at Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York.
Object number: 2002.28.1