Is your skin looking dull? Try a Seurat facial skin rejuvenation – just one of Russian Conceptual artist Alexander Melamid’s many unusual medicinal offerings at his Art Healing Ministry. Launched last May in Soho but closed after three months, the health clinic/performance art piece has recently relocated to West 29th Street, in the heart of Chelsea’s gallery district. The project is rooted in the belief that art has the power to heal its viewers – to “galvanize, fortify, stimulate, rouse, exhilarate, soothe, and enlighten” them, according to the Ministry’s website. To harness these benefits, Melamid might offer his patients a Lichtenstein-infused water or vodka, saturated with the healing powers of a Roy Lichtenstein printed on the inside of its container, or project paintings directly onto parts of the body, as in the Seurat facial. In critical cases, Melamid will prescribe for his clients a strict regimen of viewing artwork specific to the malady (Monet is good for hay fever).
One could say that Melamid advocates a forced consumption of art – when he asks clients to literally down their Lichtenstein like water he is perhaps, in effect, commenting more broadly on commercial consumption. The procedures are pricey, some costing up to $250, blurring the line between the project’s artistic merit and its profitable functionality. Additionally, for all of his spiritual claims of the healing and enlightening power of art, Melamid advertises his procedures with ironic emphasis on superficial improvement. He offers up perfection readily and definitively: promising that those who desire “flawless skin and flat stomachs” will achieve a face that “will radiate with an ethereal glow” and a waist “the size of a proverbial twig. Guaranteed!” Despite his quasi-New Age claims of mystical guidance, healing the spirit takes a backseat to conforming the body to stringent cultural ideals.
Melamid, who has exhibited at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, is no stranger to cultural commentary through artistic efforts: he was a founder of the Sots Art movement, the Soviet Union version of Pop Art, in the early 1970s. Now, with his Art Healing Ministry, he closes the gap between art and consumerism almost entirely. Art itself becomes currency, bartered for beauty. To reflect a culture obsessed with image, Melamid offers us just that: an image to solve our problems.
The Art Healing Ministry is located at 130 West 29th Street, Suite 1004.