Launched in conjunction with the artist’s current exhibition at the Tate Modern, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac is currently presenting a range of recent works by Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, exploring the artist couple’s continued exploration and investigation of the threads of memory, narration and understanding through myriad approaches to art making. The exhibition presents a collection of three separate series of recent works, each reflecting the artist’s complex relationship with the past, and the notions of personal and collective memory.
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Fallen Chandelier (1997), via Thaddaeus Ropac
Adapting his approaches and styles to each new series, the pieces see Ilya, who frequently takes the lead on the final painterly construction of the work, adopting new painterly personas for each series, often twisting the imagery of post-Cold War Russia into various imagistic reinterpretations. Images of smiling faces, heroic bodies and figures recalling classical Russian lore are posed in the same image, creating disparate historical and representational systems that the viewer is expected to link together, consider in tandem, or even allow to run free in their own associative modes. The Kabakovs are masters in the simultaneous construction and subversion of these moments of viewer engagement, leaving tricks and traps in the fabric of the work to control and delay viewers’ varied interests in the work.
Many of these techniques branch over from past works. There’s the artists’ use of polka dots in tandem with their images, a strategy deployed to create sudden moments of visual turbulence and confusion against the grain of the symbols they present on canvas, while in other works, patches and fragments of images deliberately overlay, obscuring and twisting narratives through the lens of each new viewer.
If the Kabakovs’ works are an exercise in the meanings and political potential for nostalgia, these pieces are equally an exercise in the sudden rush of memory, the moments of dizzying clarity where an idea, a concept or image flies into crystal clear view. But the political aspect of their work is equally important, particularly in the modern contexts. Recalling an era of militant socialism from afar, the artists seem interested in how these images lose meaning. Even as the oppressive violence and censorship of past eras slowly fades into the same sense of hazy fondness for childhood that other images recall, the artist’s works seem to keep both in plain view. Treating both images with a certain degree of sterility in representation, the Kabakovs open up both their works, the underlying situations they recall, and even the viewer’s own emotional responses, for scrutiny.
The exhibition is on view through January 6th. A separate showing of three large scale installations are on view through next month.
— D. Creahan
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov [Thaddaeus Ropac]