Alexander Melamid’s Hip Hop Portraits Recall Old Masters

03Sep08

By Emily Waldorf

At Forum Gallery through November 1, Alexander Melamid's Holy Hip-Hop! show featuring this 88 x 56" oil on canvas portrait of Kanye West

Known for his former partnership with Vitaly Komer, Russian-born American painter Alexander Melamid was thought to be hiding from the art world until he emerged with a new series of religious, rap, and new-money portraits last year.  Alexander Melamid and Vitaly Komer were famous for satirizing socialist realism and the capricious nature of the art world, going so far as to teach elephants to paint and ironically marketing their work to a serious international art buying audience.

Melamid’s first solo show, Holy Hip Hop! premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit last winter and just opened at Forum Gallery in Los Angeles.  The exhibition includes twelve larger than life portraits of heavy hitters in the worlds of rap and hip-hop, including Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Common, Kanye West, Reverend Run, Duke, Lil Jon, Whoo Kid, Marc Ecko and Russell Simmons.

According to Carol Kinos’ review in the International Herald Tribune, “Melamid has rendered each figure larger than life with loosely expressionistic brush strokes against a dark abstracted background in a style that recalls the court portraits of Velázquez…The idea of Melamid serving as a court portraitist to the rich, powerful and famous seems inherently satirical. Yet these paintings have a hauntingly complex and enigmatic quality.”  Is this yet another satirical exploit by a solo Melamid or has he taken up serious academic painting?

Melamid has plans to paint a dozen more portraits this year, this time with a focus on Russian billionaires.  A trilogy of the new works will be offered for sale at Phillips de Pury in London in April 2009.

Preview MOCA Detroit’s illustrated Holy Hip Hop! catalogue

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