Top Russian artist, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, who painstakingly transformed himself to resemble Adolf Hitler, Marilyn Monroe and Vladimir Putin for avant-garde photo performances, has died at 43, Russian news agencies reported Thursday.
Mamyshev-Monroe drowned in a hotel swimming pool in Bali, Russian news agencies reported, citing the Russian embassy in Jakarta. He died on March 16 but his death was only reported Thursday.
Born in Leningrad, he was part of the city’s exuberant avant-garde scene in the 1980s, mixing with cult figures such as artist Timur Novikov and musician Sergei Kuryokhin.
He began to experiment with dressing up and alternative personas while doing military service at Baikonur cosmodrome, where he ran children’s art clubs, the state RIA Novosti news agency reported.
In 1995, he had his first major exhibition at a Moscow gallery, portraying figures including Hitler and Monroe, whose surname he took as a pseudonym.
In 2003, he was one of the artists to take part in a controversial group exhibition at Moscow’s Sakharov Centre called “Caution, Religion,” which was attacked by a group of religious fundamentalists, and had his photo-collage daubed in paint.
In one of his most ambitious performances in 2006, he took on the role of Soviet superstar Lyubov Orlova in a full-length “remake” of her 1930s-era comedy “Volga, Volga,” where his head replaced hers in all the scenes and he also voiced her dialogue and sang her songs.
He won a prestigious Kandinsky prize for the film in 2007. He also had personal exhibitions at top galleries including the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg.
During his career, he transformed himself into dozens of famous figures, ranging from Buddha and Leo Tolstoy to pop star Madonna and a Barbie doll. He also performed several times as Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He took great care in his imitations of famous figures, even when there was no natural resemblance, and said he felt he genuinely took on their personalities, at least for a moment.
“First I copy the face of the person from photographs, change my clothes and stand in front of the camera… And then — click! And for a few seconds, the essence enters my body,” he told Moskovsky Komsomolets daily this month.
“He made no distinction between his private life and his life as an artist,” curator and gallerist Marat Guelman told Izvestia daily.
“Mamyshev-Monroe was one of the first to make his own life into a work of art.”