New York – Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at Pace Gallery Through December 21st, 2013

December 17th, 2013

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Appearance of Collage #6 (2012), Courtesy Pace Gallery
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Appearance of Collage #6 (2012), Courtesy Pace Gallery

Though Soviet-born artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov are New York-based, they were little known in the New York art scene until this Fall season.  Popular in Europe, their 2013 New York tour started with their successfully-launched, 8th rendition of the floating installation, “The Ship of Tolerance”, at the Dumbo Arts Festival.  Ilya Kabakov, a former childrens’ book illustrator and graphic artist did his conceptual art work in secrecy until he accepted a grant to work in Austria and grew to prominence in Europe.  Upon arriving to New York, he reconnected with his distant cousin, Emilia, a former pianist and linguist, and presently an art advisor and curator. She helped him navigate the arts scene in New York and the two soon began collaborating. They married in 1992 and have been sharing credits ever since on everything they have produced with the exception of several of Ilya’s paintings.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (Installation View), via Pace Gallery
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (Installation View), via Pace Gallery

Though celebrated internationally, with work in institutions such as MoMa, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Centre Pompidou, and the Guggenheim, their work has been controversial in Russia because they are the first living artists to be featured in St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Galleries.  The Kabakovs joined the Pace Gallery in 2013, and their first show with the gallery includes seven paintings and one installation.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (Installation View), via Pace Gallery
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (Installation View), via Pace Gallery

The oil paintings, reminiscent in color palette of 1960s and 70s Soviet films such as The Diamond Arm and White Sun of the Desert, depict the moody scenes of the everyday in the Soviet Union. Combining elements of Impressionism, Fauvism, and Constructivism with depictions of collage, the works evoke nostalgia for the tragic complacency of Soviet life.  They are an artistic reflection and colorful meditation on the actuality of the totalitarian experience that numbed artistic expression in Soviet Russia, with literal elements such as the painting of the statue of Lenin peering out behind a performer in The Appearance of Collage, #10.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Appearance of Collage #10 (2012) Pace Gallery
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Appearance of Collage #10 (2012) Pace Gallery

 The installation represents the puppetry of the Soviet Union, with a toy angel attached to the bottom of a stool, watching over a sunny, prefabricated village along a river.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Angel and Landscape (2001), Courtesy Pace Gallery
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Angel and Landscape (2001), Courtesy Pace Gallery

The couple will be featured in Amei Wallach’s documentary, premiering at the Film Forum in New York in November titled Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here.  Their current show is on view through December 21st.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (Installation View), via Pace Gallery
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (Installation View), via Pace Gallery

—M. Zarya

Read more:
Pace Gallery [Exhibition Site]
“A Peaceful Voyage” [New York Times]