Image above: Morning of Our Motherland, 1976-1987, part of an installation Birth of an Image, 1998. Acrylic on canvas, 52″ x 86″. The Jane Voorthees Zimmerly Art Museum, New Brunswick, NJ.
Arts journalist Jason Kaufman spoke about the life of Leonid Lamm (1928-2017) at his memorial in New York City
August 29, 2017
Riverside Memorial Chapel
We know that Leonid was a hugely productive man. Over a long life that reached from shortly after the October Revolution to our day — from Malevich to Jeff Koons – Leonid created a great quantity of work, much of it taking aim at the shibboleths of Soviet and Modernist utopias, and at the related political realities that impinged on his sense of truth and on his freedom. His approach could seem light-hearted and even entertaining as it poked holes in Formalist, Communist and later Capitalist visions, and did so with a sense of irony and humor, as well as an appealing graphic dynamism. But his visual play and intelligent wit could give way to anger and a demand for social justice. The figures in his paintings and installations might appear surrounded by lines and numbers that measure them out, like products of some impersonal machine.
Leonid Lamm, “The Guard Nikolai” 1984. Oil on canvas, 41″ x 41″ (104 x 104 cm) Private Collection, USA
Leonid Lamm, “Self-Portrait, My Last Day in the Labor Camp” 1976. Watercolor, colored pencil, ink on paper. 18″ x 14″ (45.7 x 35.6 cm)
They might fall victim to a Procrustean bed, with blades positioned at head and foot to insure conformity.
Leonid Lamm, “The Procrustian Bed: Overall View” 1988. Mixed media, 81″ x 81″ (206 x 206 cm)
They might be hustled through the assembly hall of Butyrka Prison, or marched in rows through a gulag on International Labor Day, flanked by slogans on billboards that inmate Leonid – assigned the role of camp artist — was forced to paint for the occasion.
Leonid Lamm stands before The Assembly Hall at Butyrka Prison, 1976, collection of Norton T. Dodge, Zimmerli Museum, Rutgers University
He endured that sort of oppression and worse, and his art fought back and will continue to do so. He took action to decry the falsehoods, the hypocrisies, the injustices, and the crimes of the oppressors. And deep down, that is what we all strive to do in our lives. We can be sure that it was not easy. Even though he loved making art, it must have been infuriating to be persecuted for self-expression, and to have to invent ways to fight back – especially for an individual like Leonid, who essentially was an intellectual, and an extremely humane and gentle soul.
Welcome to capitalism
Leonid Lamm, “Dollar” 1990-93, ed. 5/8, bronze, aluminum, enamel, 53.5 x 16.5 x 15 cm
Three decades ago, around the time that he was working on the Procrustean Bed installation, he wrote a text – almost a poem – that reflects a side of Leonid free from the troubles of the world. If I may, I will read it. It is titled,
ODE TO THE BED
How many are the joys that we associate
With the concept of the bed!
How astonishing the images
Of sweet rest, languor
Expectations of happy dreams, and
The delights of love!
Oh dreams, Oh dreams!
How many were conceived and born in bed!
Dreams and reality, here, live side by side!
Our arrival in the world Is associated with
the bed of love and mother’s bed.
Here our consciousness is born.
Here we learn the joys of light and acquire
Our first knowledge of the world!
Before embarking on the path to life,
Moving about and walking,
We start the process right here,
In our first bed!
Oh the reveries of youth!
Oh the heroic visions in our dreams!
Oh hopes for the future!
All these joys of creation
Are born in this holy place of ours– Our bed!
The bed is truly a supreme blessing!
How much warmth, sweet bliss, and comfort
It brings to maturity.
Here resides the happiness of love and
Beginning of the family– Our future!
Here is the beginning of our children!
But when old age comes,
The bed gives us a feeling
Of quiet rest.