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Komar and Melamid paint the perfect scene

America's Most Wanted

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In today's numbers-obsessed society it has become common for pollsters to mount surveys on anything and everything — politics, sexual habits, brand of toothpaste used — so why not a take poll on America's likes and dislikes in art? That's precisely what Soviet émigré artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid did in 1993 when the team conducted the first-ever scientific poll of American tastes in art for its "America's Most Wanted Painting Project." Conducted over 11 days, 1,001 adults were asked to answer 102 questions about art: Soft curves or sharp angles? Brush strokes or smooth surfaces? Famous people or ordinary? Komar and Melamid then painted two paintings from the results: "America's Most Wanted," a generic, bucolic landscape featuring a figure of George Washington, an anonymous strolling family and two wading deer; and "America's Most Unwanted," a pastiche of geometric shapes in Fiestaware colors. The paintings are both fascinating and comical and give more insight into Americans' taste than we may ever want to know. The team has repeated this exercise around the world with equally revealing results.

On Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 3 p.m., Melamid visits Virginia Commonwealth University's Grace Street Theater, 934 W. Grace St., to talk about creating the "perfect" painting using this paint-by-numbers, popular-opinion approach. Richard Roth, chairman of VCU's painting and printmaking department, invited Melamid to speak because he "thought this particular project was timely and important beyond the art world because it has to do with life in America today."

"I read an article in the New York Times the other day and it was about polling," Roth says. "President Clinton really follows polls to make his decisions — he even consulted a public opinion poll when he decided where to go on vacation. It's pretty scary, but it says a lot about politics today." As Komar and Melamid's paintings say much about our notions of

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