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May 27, 2011

Conceptual artist Alexander Melamid will treat what ails you


Long story short: His storefront clinic at 98 Thompson Street in SoHo (New York City), called the Art Healing Ministry, started accepting patients Wednesday.

Above, the artist in front of his new clinic.

"A complete evaluation takes 20 minutes and costs $125 and... ideally, as with psychiatric treatment, art healing would go forever," wrote Charles McGrath in a most entertaining and (to this treadmill-walking anesthesiologist) thought-provoking New York Times Arts section front page story, from which excerpts follow.

The Russian-born artist Alexander Melamid is by nature an ironist, so adept at serving as his own straight man that it’s hard to tell how seriously he means to be taken. He may not know himself.

Mr. Melamid and Vitaly Komar, a fellow Russian émigré, were for years a highly visible Conceptual art duo in New York. They were known for monumental paintings, including one of Stalin killing himself in a New Jersey motel, in the style of Socialist Realism, and for teaching elephants in Thailand how to paint like Abstract Expressionists.

In 2003 Mr. Melamid and Mr. Komar parted ways, and since then Mr. Melamid, always the more outgoing, has been on his own. For a while he was painting large, Velázquez-like portraits of rappers and Russian oligarchs. His most recent project, though, is something called the Art Healing Ministry, a storefront clinic at 98 Thompson Street in SoHo, where people can come in by appointment and be treated, by means of exposure to fine art, for a variety of physical and psychological ailments.

According to labels on the wall, these include bulimia nervosa, angioedema and urticaria, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and benign prostatic hyperplasia. (Mr. Melamid loves medical terminology, he said, because it reminds him of art criticism.)

Various art-healing tchotckes are for sale: candles; shoe insoles printed with a van Gogh self-portrait [below];


glass flasks for “charging” liquids with the emanations from paintings by Raphael, Botticelli, Picasso or Lichtenstein that have been reproduced on the inside of the glass; and prayer cards, one for Picasso, patron saint of motorists, and one for Georges Seurat, patron saint of clear, youthful, radiant skin. You can also arrange for a little robotlike gadget bearing reproductions of paintings by van Gogh and Warhol to visit your apartment and scuttle around on the floor for a while, ridding it of impurities.

“We all know the power of art, its power to galvanize, fortify, stimulate, rouse, soothe and enlighten,” Mr. Melamid wrote in a statement announcing the creation of his clinic. In person recently, he explained: “I was always told that art was good for me, but until recently I didn’t know what it was good for. What is good? What is good in the U.S.A. is health and health products.”

How the art-healing process works is not entirely clear, but it may involve invisible particles called creatons. “The creatons are everywhere, and they go into the human body,” said Mr. Melamid, who is small and animated and has a nimbus of white mad-scientist hair. “If the creatons are used properly and nicely, they can enhance your body functions. They will help you to live happier and will also get rid of impurities. They enter through your kundalini and also into your eyes.”

The clinic officially opens on Wednesday, but last week a middle-aged man complaining of work-related stress dropped by for a preview treatment. He looked warily at a vitrine displaying something called an “Art Infuser,” which appeared to be an old VHS tape connected to an enema bulb. But Mr. Melamid reassured him that rectal infusion was now obsolete and instead led him to the back of the clinic, to what looked like a dentist’s chair, with a computer screen and a small projection device.

While the patient reclined, Mr. Melamid sat in a chair under a portrait of himself and took notes on a clipboard. He wanted to know specifics about the patient’s malady, and about any museums he had visited recently. Told that the patient had been looking at a lot of Whistlers, he nodded and said, “Not enough masterpieces.”

Clicking through a series of paintings on the small computer screen, he stopped at a Cézanne and said: “If you have hay fever, you go to see Claude Monet, that’s for sure. For your problem I would recommend Paul Cézanne. When you go to the museum, don’t look around much. Go direct to Paul Cézanne. It’s very powerful painting, but in a way it’s also pacifying.”

For some additional, on-the-spot relief, Mr. Melamid zapped the patient right on the forehead with a projection of one of Modigliani’s reclining nudes. “Close your eyes,” he instructed. “Naked girl, beautiful girl. But will not arouse your emotions, because it’s elongated.”

He added: “You understand this is not the full session,” explaining that a complete evaluation takes 20 minutes and costs $125, and that ideally, as with psychiatric treatment, art healing would go on indefinitely.

“I’m not for money. I’m for health,” he said. “But I have to support my family and now my grandchildren.”

Afterward the patient said he didn’t necessarily feel better, but he certainly felt no worse.

Speaking of his clinic, he said: “Besides being a great idea, it’s something everyone can relate to. It takes art a little bit off the pedestal. You can art-charge your water or your vodka, you can buy an art candle. And it’s funny. I discovered five years ago that the truth is funny. Not everything that’s funny is true, for sure. But whatever is not funny is not true. That’s why truth has never been revealed, because scientists don’t understand that the end product needs to be funny.”

I would so get along with Melamid.

"Afterward the patient said he didn’t necessarily feel better, but he certainly felt no worse."

That's precisely what it's all about, from my perspective.

Nothing but upside.

I don't believe good medical practice need always run the risk of harming an individual.

Not by a long shot.

And one more thing, while I have your attention: Melamid's remark that "Whatever is not funny is not true" has been my credo since I was a child.

I cannot tell you how many relationships and friendships I've had wreck on the shoals of my making wisecracks and jokes at the height of heated arguments.

So many it's not even funny.

May 27, 2011 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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