Ilya Kabakov - BRIC London Thursday, April 14, 2011 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Kniga Collection, Paris; John L. Stewart Collection, New York; Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie de France, FIAC, 10 October – 18 October 1987; Madrid, Galerie de France, ARCO, 10 – 16 February 1988; Bonn, Bonner Kunstverein, Erik Bulatov – Ilya Kabakov, Moskau, 2 May – 5 June 1988; Kunstmuseum Bern, Ich Lebe – Ich Sehe: Künstler der Achtziger Jahre in Moskau, 11 June – 14 August 1988; Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Ilya Kabakov. Ein Meer von Stimmen, 13 August – 12 November 1995; East Hampton, New York, Guild Hall Museum, The Reading Room, 28 June – 27 July 1997; Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Ilya Kabakov 1969–1998, 25 June – 3 September 2000

  • Literature

     M. Landert, M. Büchler, ed., Ich Lebe – Ich Sehe: Künstler der Achtziger Jahre in Moskau, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Bern, 1988; ART Contemporain Sovietique. Sélection d’Oeuvres Provenant de la Collection KNIGA, Paris: Galerie de France, 1988, p. 27 (illustrated); T. Vischer, ed., Ilya Kabakov. Ein Meer von Stimmen, exh. cat., Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel, 1995, pp. 112–17 (illustrated); Ilya Kabakov: the Reading Room, exh. cat., Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York, 1997, p. 17 (illustrated); A. Cruz, ed., Ilya Kabakov: 1969–1998, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, 2000, pp. 54–55; Z. Felix, ed., Ilya Kabakov, Der Text als Grundlage des Visuellen/The Text as the Basis of Visual Expression, Cologne: Oktagon, 2000, p. 104; Ilya Kabakov in the Collection of John L. Stewart, 2007, p. 83 (illustrated in colour); R. Petzinger, E. Kabakov, ed., Ilya Kabakov. Paintings /Gemälde 1. Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 1, Germany: Kerber Verlag, 2008, p. 204

  • Catalogue Essay

    This painting, from Ilya Kabakov’s Holidays series, was created in 1987. In the USSR this was the height of Perestroika, an era that signalled the beginning of the end for the entire socialist system. For Kabakov, the late 1980s was the period when he formed and implemented the concept of the ‘absolute installation’ – creating, in essence, the contemporary Gesamkunstwerk.
    However, this art form could only be realised in the West, where Kabakov would finally gain access to the vast exhibition spaces of the best galleries and museums. For what Kabakov yearned to achieve could not fit within the confines of a sheet of paper, a portfolio, a painting or an art object. He was more interested in creating a three-dimensional concept, a singular world where he was both leading actor and director; where the actual art was born within the dialogue between the visuals offered and the audience’s reaction to them.
    Thus, it is no accident that in his best installations from the late 1980s and early 1990s – Holidays being among these – the artist turns to mass graphic production. Such displays had been ubiquitous in the USSR, from museums and exhibitions halls to vast public spaces. Having moved to the West, Kabakov gained the opportunity to utilise this genre freely, with both censorship and space limitations finally eliminated. However, the visual and semantic reality of the Soviet era remained an important component, a springboard for the artist – who had, of course, been trained in this tradition.
    The Holidays installation consists of twelve oil paintings, ten horizontal and two vertical. They were displayed, sometimes in two rows with the vertical ones leaning against the wall, in a room “where the floor was strewn with garbage, old newspapers, overturned tables and chairs” (I. Kabakov, Texts, Vologda, 2010, p. 135). At the first perfunctory glance these works seem to have been painted 40 or 50 years ago, probably commissioned from an art production plant for some Soviet-era public space. Unlike the 1992 installation Incident in a Museum or Water Music, in this case the supposed artist is a faceless entity, a cog in the great machine of ‘The System’. According to Kabakov, he is “not so much an artist, but a character, a someone”. He is so insignificant that there is not even any need to invent a biography for him. The fictitious authorship indicates the beginning of the game, which is he first level of the proposed reality. Most of the paintings created by this imaginary artist art familiar vistas to a Soviet observer. There are cityscapes with recognisable structures and scenes from everyday life portraying heroic feats of labour, or leisure time among friends and family.
    However, an element in these paintings disrupts our initial perception of them as banal mass-produced fodder from the Soviet era – for, like artificial flowers, pieces of coloured foil bloom equidistant from each other on the surface of each canvas.
    Let us consider a prosaic tableau – an afternoon tea during, say, a vacation in the Crimea, with a stereotypical grandmother holding a saucer up to her tousle-haired grandson as he sips the hot liquid. Beside them sits a stolid-looking man reading a newspaper. But this scene, as depicted by Kabakov, is doubly conditional. The lower right corner depicts a reduced-size image, like an embedded snapshot, of a group of happy boys by the sea; and both images appear blurred, like a stylized silkscreen copy of an original painting. The artist is layering stratum upon stratum, meaning upon meaning – the surface of the main canvas and the canvas of the ‘embedded’ image become, in a sense, a conditional object that is then festooned with real pieces of coloured foil casting sharp and genuine shadows. Nonetheless, this layered visual harmony works – and, for those who recall the Soviet way of life, in one rather particular way: for, like a phantom visitor from the past, it readily evokes beloved communist vocal harmonies such as ‘Oh, what a joy to live in Soviet lands…’.
    Kabakov has mastered the visual rigging of the Soviet era, though in his own writings, he constantly refers to it as “blatant hackwork”. He emphasises its usage as a mere symbol of convention, avoiding – in this case – the prospect of it being mistaken for real 1950s art, as happened with naïve visitors to the Incident in a Museum installation.
    Meticulously covering the surfaces of each of the 12 paintings in this series with multicoloured pieces of foil is a method that hammers the message home. The desire to decorate, so characteristic and widespread in the Soviet era, both in public and private life, is quite specifically articulated in this painting from the Holidays series as a “strange way of injecting joy” when “a holiday is layered upon a holiday.”
    In his interview with Pavel Pepperstein, Kabakov discusses his concept for the Holidays series, emphasising not only physical or semantic layering, but also the layering of time. Decades stretch out between the imaginary creation of the paintings and the moment when decorations were added to them, thus underlining the enormous gap between the signifier and the signified.
    The presence of the text with the author’s statement of intent and a series of commentaries by Pavel Pepperstein do not, however, exhaust all possible interpretations. When it comes to Kabakov we are always dealing with very specific texts, even if they do not literally exist in a painting. These texts can be deciphered and interpreted ad infinitum, as the artist himself is wont to do. Therein probably lies one of the reasons why his works arouse such enormous interest. Nearly always melded from Soviet era ingredients, they nevertheless have a universal resonance, reflecting the principal issues of concern today, feeding both the mind and the imagination.
    Zelfira Tregulova
    (translation by Yanina Gotsulsky)


Holidays #10


Oil, string and paper, foil and cloth collage on masonite in the artist's painted wood frame.

100.3 x 156.2 cm (39 1/2 x 61 1/2 in).
Signed, titled in Cyrillic and dated 'I. Kabakov "Holidays" No.10 1987'  on the reverse of the stretcher. This work is listed under catalogue raisonné number 119, where it is mistitled “Holidays #5” and incorrectly listed as a work on canvas.

£1,500,000 - 2,500,000 ‡♠

Sold for £1,497,250


14 - 15 April 2011