Ilya Kabakov and Emilia Kabakov - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, October 5, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Flying, 17 March - 17 April 2010, p. 26 (illustrated on the cover)
    Hannover, Sprengel Museum; Høvikodden, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Ilya Kabakov: A Return to Painting 1961 - 2011, 29 January - 16 September 2012, p. 125 and p. 178 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Transporting the viewer to another realm, Flying 12, a naturalistically abstract masterpiece by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, encapsulates the artists’ enduring ability to blend nostalgia and memory, whilst formally engaging with the visual culture of the Soviet Union. Presenting a new holistic perspective, the monumental canvas from their renowned Flying series was exhibited in 2010 at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris and featured on the cover of the exhibition catalogue. 2009, the year in which the present work was created, saw a major retrospective for the artists held in Moscow at the Pushkin Museum with a subsequent show at the CCC Melnikov Garage. Testament to the artists’ enduring legacy and international acclaim, the collaborative duo, who have been working together since 1989, are currently being celebrated at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D. C., prior to the opening of their forthcoming exhibition at the Tate Modern, London on 18th October 2017.

    A recurring theme throughout the artists’ oeuvre, the concept of flight is prevalent in works such as The Man who Flew Into Space From His Apartment (1985) and The Palace of Projects (1995 - 1998). Born in Russia under the rule of the Soviet Union, the pervasive notion of flying can be interpreted as a desire to escape from the confinement of the standardised artistic norms and social restrictions of Soviet Russia. Instantly recognisable as being evocative of the Soviet Socialist Realist style, the painterly technique employed in Flying 12 is, at first glance, a naturalistic scene of the Russian landscape. Examining the composition, mounting abstract qualities come to the foreground; the predominance of white endows it with spatial priority creating a tension between the abstract and the naturalistic. The white expanses of canvas melt into a blank slate, upon which scraps of memory slide over and take root, providing an ephemeral viewing experience. In the present composition, the Kabakovs masterfully hold the viewer in a transitory moment, presenting an insight into their wistful and private world, the viewer contemplating the tranquillity of the pastoral scene. Floating above the canvas, the inset picture appears to resist gravity, heightening the sense that the image could simply drift away.

    The notion of memory and forgetting is crucial to the Kabakovs' work due to the political rewriting of Soviet history that fostered a continuous state of flux within the collective memory. Flying 12 presents the viewer with a paradox: the stylistic roots within Soviet imagery are contrasted with a satellite perspective. A distance is established between the viewer and the subject, emphasising the problematic nature of publicised reality. Referencing the malleable nature of recollection, Flying 12 presents the fragility of memory whilst alluding to the selective and sometimes deceptive nature thereof. This small window into a forgotten personal experience emphasises the larger reality of Soviet culture that we cannot see; the blank space is brimming with what has been omitted. The viewer is invited to adopt an active role when interpreting the composition, emphasising art as a reciprocal dialogue. Celebrating the importance of dialogue in highlighting conflicting viewpoints, the Kabakovs draw on the notion favoured by Mikhail Bakhtin. Flying 12 encourages the viewer to fill this blank page of history, the diagonal slant of the inset picture leading the viewer’s eye on an upwards trajectory into whiteness.

    A presiding influence for the pictorial arrangement of the Kabakovs' Flying series is the work of Kazimir Malevich. Malevich saw white as offering a freedom beyond the restrictive bounds of colour and offered new methods of representation through his experimental abstractions with geometric shapes. Referring to the importance of his influence, Ilya Kabakov proclaimed that ‘the way ahead is with Malevich alone’ (Ilya Kabakov, ‘Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future’, A-YA, issue 5, 1983). In the same way as the master of Suprematism, the Kabakovs experiment with the significance of signs and symbols to present alternate perspectives on the personal and public understanding of memory.

    Presenting an apparent Soviet Realist composition, the Kabakovs translate the peaceful pastoral scene into a multifaceted masterwork of historical importance. The naïve style is reminiscent of the faith and optimism of local quotidian life. Flying 12 is a spectacular commentary upon representations of the past as the scenery glides in a dreamlike, hallucinogenic state over the surface of the paintings. In their powerful composition, the Kabakovs leave the viewer contemplating notions of perception and holding onto fragmented pieces of memory.


Flying 12

signed, titled and dated (in Cyrillic) '2009' on the stretcher
oil on canvas
282 x 189 cm (111 x 74 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2009.

£150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £212,500

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 6 October 2017