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Nov 13, 2013
Meet the Kabakovs - Architectural Digest

This is turning out to be a banner year for Emilia and Ilya Kabakov who are perhaps Russia’s best-known living artists.  Although superstars overseas who command multi-million dollar prices for their canvasses, sculptures and installations, the husband and wife conceptionalist team is less known on this side of the Atlantic despite having spent the last two decades on Manhattan and Long Island. Recently, the pair floated a technicolored-sailboat, “The Ship of Tolerance” at the Dumbo Arts Festival in New York, the first of many splashes they’re now making closer to home.


Emilia and Ilya Kabakovís The Ship of Tolerance


“There is no other Russian figure since 1933 who has the kind of international stature as [Ilya] has,” says Robert Storr, the Dean of Yale Art School, early in a film about the Kabakovs, Enter Here, premiering at New York’s Film Forum on November13. The documentary, directed by Amei Wallach, who was also behind the Louis Bourgeois documentary, The Spider, The Mistress and the Tangerine, centers on the couple’s triumphant return to Russia in 2008 to open three separate exhibits in the country which once banned the Kabakovs’ work. Amidst the fantastical constructions--including insects suspended on strings to create a gossamer cupola--the film explores the symbiotic relationship between husband and wife. Ilya’s the ideas man silently puttering on his installations beneath tufts of unkempt white hair; Emilia’s the make-it-happen muse, murmuring velvet-voiced orders into a cellphone to keep curators in line, and command a small army of contractors and artisans to bring her husband’s vision to life.


Their ironic, provocative and often witty visions of the Soviet Union’s failed utopia strike a universal chord. Now on view at the Pace Gallery in New York is a retrospective of the Kabakovs’ collage-style paintings. One canvas, their seminal Dark and Light  #9, depicts a Russian Realist-style scene in a Soviet art gallery pulled apart to reveal a dark void bringing a sense of doom and hollowness through the Kabakovs’ signature dueling totalitarian aesthetics. Dueling aesthetics are archly used in another painting, The Appearance of Collage #10: A Baroque figure seems startled by her canvass torn to expose a massive statue of Lenin beckoning to the future. It’s as if humanity’s doomed reach for the sublime should be celebrated with a beauty and humor as grim as the quest.

Dark and Light #9, Ilya Kabakov

These ironic and profound visions come to a head next May 10 when the couple opens the centerpiece exhibit in the Grand Palais in Paris for the French Ministry of Culture’s annual “Monumenta” show. Visitors will wander through giant chapels depicting catastrophes of failed science and social experiments. It’ll be the largest Kabakov installation yet so the conceptionalist art world should be prepared for the voyage of a lifetime.

   
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