Now through July 12, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac is presenting Paintings about the Sun, new work by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The exhibition will take place in Salzburg at the gallery’s Villa Kast location. The works on view represent a departure from many of the artist’s previous installed and illustrated investigations, with the conversational capacity of an image being tested while form and frame are disrupted then elaborated. The sun is a consistent presence throughout the work, represented as either a blinding impediment to vision or impossibly illuminating.
The pictorial character of memory is at work across this collection, and an incredible bridging of histories takes place as images are shown deteriorating as thinly as tissue paper. Color and content reflect the intervention of 1950s memories or old Soviet propaganda films. At once conjuring and corrupting histories, the Kabakovs establish a conversation between the constructed and involuntary images of the past that flood the mind’s eye incessantly. The finesse and mastery of Kabakov’s illustration is evident in his channeling of classical Baroque paintings, though the conceptual care with which these projects were executed represents a more complex and ambitious undertaking that tracks the network of meaning, feeling, and time.
Four Paintings about Sun, for example, are carefully layered surfaces that have been arranged and affixed to create a final product that attempts to track the movement of memory and time. The central point of these images is a round white void, or reference to the searing presence of sun. In Paintings about Sun #3, a baroque tapestry is set against the abstract background of a chilly interior space. A winter scene is present through something like a window, and glowing faces are averted away from the tapestry, falling outside the frame. In this image, an impenetrable mystery is held. What comes across most strongly in this collection is the artist’s surrender to a distance between subject and producer.
In an interview, Ilya Kabakov claims that it is very significant that he does not know his subjects or what they are doing. Kabakov sees and records a world but pushes it away with his illustration of it. (Willelm Jan Render’s interview with Ilya Kabakov in Moscow 31 March 2013, published in Ilya Kabakov’s catalogue raisonnée, 2008-2013, Vol.III). This implied distance between observer and observed is rendered inescapable in the fractures and discordances constantly interrupting the experience of viewing. Engrossing, unsettling, and fascinating, the Kabakovs’ images illustrate the work of integration and interpretation that must take place in the movement from past to present. The Kabakovs’ work is conceptually relevant to all who have grappled with the persistence of memory.
— A. Corrigan