He’s one the most monumentalised men in history and now, Vladimir Lenin, the first premier of the Soviet Union, will have an exhibition that revives his image with a 21st-century twist. The exhibition, Lived, Lives, Will Live!, by the Vietnamese-American art collective The Propeller Group, takes as its starting point the conspiracy theory that Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio is a lost relative of Lenin.
From there, it explores the relationship between historical heritage, politics and contemporary celebrity culture with a series of images that superimpose DiCaprio’s hair on original paintings of Lenin that once hung in regional Communist Party headquarters across the Soviet Union. There’s Lenin with DiCaprio’s floppy bowl haircut in the Titanic and there’s the revolutionary leader with the actor’s slicked back hair in The Great Gatsby. The aim of the project is to continue the series beyond the exhibition and throughout DiCaprio’s career until the two figures are intertwined in a kind of Hollywood drama that overcomes both history and identity.
The exhibition also features a gold-plated bust of Lenin that has been turned into a giant pendant as grand as the monuments erected in his honour. The pendant plus 18-carat gold chain is a nod to the bling associated with hip-hop culture but also royal jewels, war medals and other such regalia. Blurring the line between sculpture and jewellery, the necklace transforms a public monument into an easily reproducible commodity.
The Propeller Group was founded in 2006 with the aim of creating cross-disciplinary art projects. The collective’s three members, Phunam, Matt Lucero and Tuan Andrew Nguyen, divide their time between Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles. The exhibition Lived, Lives, Will Live! runs from 12 September to 26 October at the Lombard Freid gallery in New York.