generate funds to support endangered Asian elephants.
For 4,000 years elephants in Asia have been captured, trained, and employed as beasts of burden in a range of industries. In Thailand, elephants performed a vital role in the nation's timber industry, and from the mid-nineteenth century were employed harvesting the expansive teak forests in the nation's north. In less than 150 years the forested land in Thailand decreased from 90% to less than 20%. By 1990 the ecological devastation caused by such widespread deforestation led to a total ban on logging, saving what little remained of Thailand's forests but leaving around 3,000 domesticated elephants and their handlers, or mahouts, out of work.
In 1996 Russian-born, New York-based conceptual artists Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid introduced the idea of teaching elephants to paint as a means of self-sustenance. Elephants in the United States had been painting successfully for two decades. Ruby, an elephant at the Phoenix Zoo, had generated as much as $100,000 a year through the sale of her paintings. Komar and Melamid introduced this idea to Asia, and in 1998 founded the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project (AEACP), a nonprofit foundation sanctioned by the World Wildlife Fund and dedicated to the care of unemployed domesticated elephants.
The AEACP has been a remarkable success; paintings by some of the most talented elephant artists have been included in the 1999 Venice Biennale and in 2000 were auctioned at Christie's for thousands of dollars, generating funds to provide proper care for the elephants and support for their trainers.
Teaching elephants to paint is just one of many projects undertaken by Komar and Melamid that explore the nature of art and the creative process. Komar and Melamid both attended the Moscow Art School and the Stroganov Institute of Art and Design, Moscow, and began their collaborative work in 1965. Their work has included an international auction of human souls, the construction of a temple dedicated to themselves on a hill outside of Bethlehem, and the creation of a painting that precisely reflected popular taste based on the findings of an international survey.
By introducing paintings by elephants into the international art market, Komar and Melamid challenge our assumptions of what art is, and when we should take it seriously. At the same time, these paintings are a wry, astute commentary on Abstract Expressionism, and especially the gestural work of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline. The idea behind the project is laden with challenging questions: Who determines the value of art? Does intention matter in the creative process? What is the role of art institutions in pronouncing what is art and what isn't?
Komar and Melamid's Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project
April 10 through July 14
Auction and Opening Reception
April 11, 7 – 9 pm
Don't miss the first exhibition and auction of animal art on the West Coast. Nearly fifty paintings by sixteen accomplished Asian elephants will be auctioned. Proceeds go towards providing proper care for the endangered Asian elephants, formerly employed in the Thai logging industry, and support for their handlers.
The auction will be preceded by an artists' talk and video screening; please see Public Programs below for further information and in the museum store.
Independently owned and operated, State of the Arts‚ is a Paolo Alto-based firm that provides an extensive range of services designed to expand the reach of the artist and gallery via conventional media and the Internet. In addition to presenting electronic versions of all the elephant art to be shown at the BAM/PFA, State of the Arts‚ will power the central web site for all activities on behalf of the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project (AEACP).
Artists' Talk and Video Screening, "The People's Painting"
Thursday, April 11, 5:30-7 p.m.
Conceptual artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid will talk about their Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project in a slide-illustrated lecture, which will be followed by a screening of "The People's Painting" (1998, 49 minutes). Directed by Chris Granlund, the video chronicles Komar and Melamid's project to create a picture-using input from polls and focus groups-that would embody the most popular motifs and styles in art. Combining conceptual art, market research, humor, and a road trip through Great Britain, the resulting painting and film constitute an evocative and satirical portrait of Britain today and an examination of the tools of contemporary capitalism.
Matthew Jesse Jackson
Sunday, April 14, 3 p.m. and Sunday, May 5, 3 p.m.
In his gallery talks Matthew Jesse Jackson will focus on Komar and Melamid's relationship to late Soviet art and society, and the artists' fascination with the role of the popular, collective, and "avant-garde" in contemporary culture.
Video Screening, "Ganapati and Elephant Games"
Wednesday, April 17, 7:30 p.m.
Pacific Film Archive Theater
PFA presents two works that poetically observe the relationship between man and elephant: Skip
Blumberg's "Elephant Games" (1985, 28 minutes) and Daniel Reeves's "Ganapati/A Spirit in the Bush" (1986, 45 minutes). Blumberg presents the annual Thai elephant games, including the tug-of-war and the speed trials, while lingering on the endangered status of these unwitting contestants. Reeves counterbalances the majesty of elephants with the cruelties waged upon them with beautiful location footage intermixed with sometimes disturbing archival passages. Further information is available on the PFA information line at (510) 642-1124.