On November 22 CoCA opens The 1997 Northwest Annual, God is Dice, the first artist competition in the Northwest to be judged conceptually.
CoCA has presented The Northwest Annual since 1989, each time bringing in a nationally known juror from outside of the Northwest. Each year CoCA allows its juror to make the ground rules for judging the work entered. This has resulted in wildly varying shows, each reflecting the juror as much as the work entered. The competition is open to artists from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
Since this year's exhibition was judged by a conceptual artist, it follows that the work was chosen conceptually. After initial review of the slides Mr. Melamid was impressed at the overall quality of the submissions. He was very uncomfortable about confusing qualitative judgments with matters of taste. First he asked if all the entries could be included in the show. He was informed that there simply was not enough space, at which point he sat with his head in his hands for several minutes. Finally he looked up and said, "If you insist that I play God, I will do what God does, roll dice." CoCA's Technical Director was dispatched to the corner store to buy some dice and the judging commenced.
Melamid rolled the dice as every slide entered was projected. If a 7 or 11 turned up the piece advanced to the next round. Upon rolling a 7 or 11 Mr. Melamid would shout "This is great art!" before moving on to the next slide. The first round ended with 229 slides, still too many for CoCAís space. He completed a second round resulting in 49 pieces by 47 artists. The winners of the competition are the two artists who rolled consecutive 11ís. Mr. Melamid insisted upon completion of judging that this year's exhibition be renamed The 1997 Northwest Annual, God is Dice.
Any extrapolation one makes about what this method reveals about Mr. Melamid is perfectly legitimate. The notion that oneís fate is a crapshoot is not lost on him. Alexander Melamid was raised in the Soviet Union with Stalin as his childhood hero, he became a dissident artist in the sixties, was booted out of the Moscow Artists Union and emigrated to the U.S. in the late 70's. With his partner Vitaly Komar, he has been an internationally respected artist for over twenty years. Alexander Melamid is very aware of the vagaries of fashion as applied to culture.
The work of Komar and Melamid, underneath its conceptual bravura and ironic gloss, poses questions about the place of the artist in modern society. From purchasing people's souls via mail-order to creating a painting school for homeless elephants in Thailand, Komar & Melamid seek truth through the ridiculous. The 1997 Northwest Annual, God is Dice is no exception.