by Sarah Schmerler
Chances are you have never met an iconoclast like Alexander Melamid. A conceptual artist turned self-proclaimed “art healer,” he’s had a pretty impressive (if the word can even apply to iconoclasts) career. Back in the 1990s, he was known as part of the duo Komar and Melamid, when their art was spotlighted in such august, fame-dispensing institutions as the Venice Biennale, Documenta, and the Guggenheim. Among other things, the two polled the American public and came up with “The Most-Wanted Painting in America”—a cheesy, bucolic landscape complete with George Washington, a deer, and other treacly fare. (It’s a project they did in 16 other countries as well, with equally queasy-making results.) Melamid split from Komar in 2004. At 66 years old, his work leans so far to the edge of irony that it makes Duchamp look conservative. These days, Melamid is concerned with reaching a greater public beyond the walls of museums, using masterpieces—or perhaps, the public’s sheeplike “faith” in fine art—as a method of healing ills of all sorts: insomnia, impotence, depression. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, he has declared himself an art healer, an art prophet, and even, yes, a deity. He’s given out art-healing communion (absinthe) on the streets of London; opened a functioning art-healing clinic in Soho (where you could strip and have masterworks like Van Goghs and Renoirs projected onto your body); and is currently serving as a bonafide healer, making rounds at Queens Hospital. Yes, he showed me his security badge, it’s real. I met Melamid at a donut shop and found him to be a charming character of the A-1 variety; an artist who wants what every artist you’ve ever met wants: to save the world. Warning: before you read our conversation, know that Melamid is serious. He embodies what he is/does/says. Play along, or play…alone. P.S. He healed me.
SS—Mr. Melamid… AM—That’s not my name. I just want you to know, you can’t call me that.