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© RIA Novosti. Valeriy Levitin

Artist famed for Marilyn Monroe, Hitler impersonation drowns in Bali

by Joy Neumeyer at 22/03/2013 14:58

Pouting red lips and a delicate collarbone - he was Marilyn. Clear gaze, firm shoulders, trim moustache - he was Hitler.

Artist Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe - or, as he was better known, Vladik Monroe - was the playful high priest of mimicry, his pale, rubbery features morphing seamlessly from Osama bin Laden to Jesus Christ.

Late last week came the news that the artist, 43, had drowned in a hotel swimming pool in Bali, where he has lived since 2007. His death stunned an art world that remembers him as the exuberant face of Leningrad's late Soviet underground (whose founding father, Timur Novikov, died in 2002).

"I do rate him as the most, maybe not the best, but the most amazing of all Russian contemporary artists," said cultural critic Artemy Troitsky, who has known Mamyshev-Monroe since the late 80s. "A truly unbelievable human creature."

Mamyshev-Monroe began dressing as Marilyn in the '80s, while serving in the military. The inspiration he cited most often was the cult Leningrad film "Assa," which he saw while stationed at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"I was marching around Baikonur, and over there they were living an entirely different life," he told Afisha magazine in an interview earlier this month. "In the country there was perestroika, freedom!"

He fashioned his first impromptu Marilyn costume out of curtains and doll hair. The performance, along with a drawing of Gorbachev dressed as an Indian woman, earned him a discharge via the army psychiatric ward.

Mamyshev-Monroe as Marilyn, in a photo from the Lumiere Brothers’ “Icon” exhibition

© Courtesy of Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Mamyshev-Monroe as Marilyn, in a photo from the Lumiere Brothers’ “Icon” exhibition

In an early Leningrad appearance as the actress, the 1991 video "Yanvarskaya Vyuga" (January Blizzard), a nude Mamyshev-Monroe struts in thigh-high stockings and writhes coyly in a bathtub. A surreal split-frame shot has his legs spinning one direction, while his body rotates in the other.

Together with Novikov and Yuri Lesnik, he founded "Piratskoye Televideniye," a gleeful parody of Soviet TV. In its most famous episode, the show convinced millions of viewers that Lenin was a mushroom.

"He lived and breathed the rarified air of the post-perestroika Leningrad underground, when suddenly everything became possible and all of it was easy and fun," wrote Kira Dolinina, a childhood friend of the artist's, in an emotional obituary in Kommersant.

Mamyshev-Monroe went on to portray dozens of other famous figures, including Dostoyevsky, Elizabeth I, Charlie Chaplin and Hitler (in a photo that former Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov ordered taken down from Moscow's Yakut Gallery). In 2007, his remake of the 1938 classic "Volga Volga" - in which actress Lyubov Orlova is digitally replaced with his impersonation - won a prestigious Kandinsky Prize. Along the way, he was always ephemeral, alternating bouts on Moscow's glamorous club circuit with lengthy disappearances.

For the past several years, Mamyshev-Monroe has been most associated with his take on Putin.

"When I started to dress up as Putin, I got the feeling that I had become an enormous maggot that's about to burst from the s**t it's eating," he told Afisha. "But I'm not a villain, I'm the cleaner of the forest, and I must gobble up our dead, great Russian Empire and Soviet Union as quickly as possible so that it can start a new life."

His latest subject was the stodgy Polonius, in a postmodern take on "Hamlet" that debuted in Moscow in December. Earlier this month, an exhibition tied to the play opened at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Mamyshev-Monroe was to revive the role on April 6.

"I hadn't seen Vlad in such an artistic form and a dynamic state as in the past several months," Troitsky said. "It was a magic comeback from him."

Read other articles of the print issue "The Moscow News #11"
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