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Art Through Time: A Global View

Cosmology and Belief Art: Forest as a Temple

» Vitaly Komar (Russian, b. 1943)

Forest as a Temple

Forest as a Temple
Artist / Origin: Vitaly Komar (Russian, b. 1943)
Region: Russia, Central and North Asia
Date: 2007
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Tempera and oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 72 in. (183 cm.), W: 36 in. (91.5 cm.)
Location: Collection of artist
Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Vitaly Komar’s Forest as a Temple is an image of ecumenical spirituality couched in the essential mystery that is nature.

The tops of the tall trees on either side of Komar’s canvas curve toward the center, forming a canopy reminiscent of the high vaulted arches of a Gothic cathedral. In the open space between the trees, a slice of blue sky filters light as if stained glass. This, in turn, becomes the backdrop for a moon, a menorah, and a cross—emblems of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity respectively.

The work belongs to the artist’s New Symbolism series, which is a continuation of his Three-Day Weekend project begun in 2004. As Komar describes it, Three-Day Weekend attests to the potential for peaceful coexistence among people with differing conceptions of faith and spirituality. In his images, he seeks a visual language that can overcome the differences compounded by verbal dialogue. Thus, he brings together traditional symbols of specific institutionalized religions with basic geometric shapes occurring in nature and common to the art of diverse belief systems, namely the triangle, the circle, and the square. To these, he adds historical and autobiographical images. The name Three-Day Weekend is, in fact, inspired by Komar’s own past in Russia. He remembers a time when workers had off only on Sunday, the Christian holy day, and his Jewish grandfather’s joy when the weekend was extended to include Saturday, the Sabbath, or day of rest, in Judaism. Komar’s vision adds Friday, the holy day for Muslims, to the mix.

Three-Day Weekend and New Symbolism are, on the one hand, genuine attempts to uncover the essential sameness of spirituality by all its varied names, among which Komar includes science as well as religion. On the other, they are not without an ironic edge. Komar began his career working in collaboration with the artist Alex Melamid. Together, they founded what is now known as the Sots-Art movement, which used the Pop Art idiom to subvert Soviet propaganda and challenge official Socialist Realism style. Brought to his new solo projects, Komar’s penchant for irony emerges in more subtle ways through the juxtaposition of seemingly opposite and incompatible images and ideas.

Expert Perspective:
Vitaly Komar, Artist

“I believe in immortality of the soul since I was a child. It was kind of my secret because it was not exactly politically correct say it in Russia in the seventies, because Russia was atheistic country, officially atheistic, totalitarian, atheistic country. In my family many different religious tradition exist. My father and mother was atheist and member of Communist Party. But father grow up in Christian tradition and mother in Jewish tradition. I remember after Stalin death, my grandfather, my mother’s father, was a little happy because after Stalin death government established two day weekend—Saturday and Sunday. He took it as a symbol of peaceful coexistence of Judaism and Christianity. But I remember since my childhood and our neighbors, it was a few people of Islam—some Muslim people, some Tatars—many of them living in Russia, in Moscow as well. And I knew that for Islam the Friday is a holy day. Many years ago when I was child, this same idea come to my mind.

I tried to create the peaceful coexistence of different visual symbols—Judaism, Christianity, Islam—and I believe through the enjoyment of the beauty people understood the concept of the peaceful coexistence of the different concepts of spirituality. I tell you why I am so involved in this project Three Day Weekend—I mean Friday for Islam, Sunday for Christianity, and Saturday for Judaism. Because I am conceptual artist, involved two different concept—concept of spirituality and also some kind of politically social concept of the three-day weekends and of four days working week. It’s a two different kind of social political ideas of utopia, of the social utopia. And also spirituality because three days united three monotheistic religion.

This canvas is represent of my New Symbolist work and project, which related to Three-Day Weekend project. Here is a representation of the forest as a temple. I believe now the time for art go back to spiritual sources, searches. In the center of this forest, which looks like temple, you see the kind of window but it’s also distance between trees. And you see the symbol of three monotheistic religion, menorah as Judaism, moon Islam, and the cross you can see as well—all of them united at a kind of natural born stained glass of the sky between trees. You know, we in twentieth century, the century of the progress and technology, we lost feeling of unity with nature, we lost perception of the nature as a temple. And I tried to represent this feeling.”

Additional Resources

Komar, Vitaly, Dorte Asheton, and Andrew Weinstein. Vitaly Komar (Three-Day Weekend). New York: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, 2005.

Ratcliff, Carter. Komar & Melamid. New York: Abbeville Press, 1989.

Regina, Khidekel. It’s the Real Thing: Soviet & Post-Soviet Sots Art & American Pop Art. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

“Vitaly Komar.” In Artists. The Ronald Feldman Gallery Web site.

The Web site of Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid.

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