We Buy and Sell Souls – art action by Komar & Melamid and the Nest Group
The event was initiated by Komar and Melamid, the founders of Sots Art in the early 1970s and teachers of a number younger Moscow Conceptualists, including members of the Nest, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to New York in 1977. One of the newly emigrated artists’ first projects was to establish a company that would buy and sell human souls. They launched an advertising campaign which included posters and print ads. They also took out an advertisement on the Times Square video display, sponsored by the Public Art Fund of New York. Komar & Melamid, Inc. purchased several hundred American souls, including that of American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928–1987), who donated his soul for free. An advertisement in the New York Times announced “the first auction of un-official American art in the Soviet Union simultaneously in New York and Moscow on Saturday, May 19, 1979, 12:00 p.m. New York Time.” A heated auction took place in Mikhail Odnoralov’s apartment, where the soul of American collector of nonconformist Soviet art Norton T. Dodge (1927–2011) drew particularly heated bids; Warhol’s soul sold for thirty rubles. The customers who attended included the poet Genrikh Sapgir (1928–1999), art historian and collector Tatiana Kolodzei (b. 1947), and Anatoly Lepin (b. 1944). Artists who attended included Alena Kirtsova (b. 1954), Vadim Zakharov (b. 1959), and Yuri Albert (b. 1959).
Date: 19 May 1979
Participants: Vitaly Komar (b. 1943), Alexander Melamid (b. 1945) in New York; The Nest Group – Mikhail Roshal (1956-2007), Victor Skersis (b. 1956), and Gennady Donskoi (b. 1956)
Locations: The action took place simultaneously in the studio of Mikhail Odnoralov on Dmitrievskogo Street, Moscow and at the Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York.