Ilya Kabakov - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 27, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist

  • Exhibited

     New York, Ronald Feldman Gallery, Ten Characters, 30 April – 7 June, 1988; London, Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), 22 February – 23 April, 1989; Kunshalle Zurich, June 1989; Paris, The Centre Pompidou, 7 March – 3 June; Hirschhorn Museum, Washington D.C., 7 March – 10 June, 1990, Ten Characters

  • Literature

    O. Baatschmann, B. Groys, Catalogue Raisonné – Installation 1983-2000, Volume I, no. 19, np. (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Regardless of his great efforts of bringing his neighbours together through the collectiveness of music, Vladimir Viktorovich Yevdokimov, The Composer, was accused for disrupting the life of the other residents living in the communal apartment. As a result he was summoned before the Comrade’s Court to defend the accusations of him violating or disturbing the life of the inhabitants of 24 Kryukovsky Lane, where he had been living now for 18 years, he pleaded: “…I think to myself all the time that, indeed, our lives here are sufficiently difficult, but why does a person always have to be confined to those lowly banal things which surround him? Why can’t he open his soul to something exalted which would ennoble him and lift him up? In Moscow we do have special movie houses and concert halls for this, and everyday there are artistic performances. But our tenants never go anywhere. They are surrounded on all sides by a world of culture, yet they live locked inside with their petty concerns. Something has to be done here inside our apartment. Thus I devised musical concerts, which twice a month should take place within the confines of our apartment…” (Ilya Kabakov, The Composer, New York, 1988, pp. 5-6). The Composer’s statement is fundamental in understanding the artist’s vision, both for his installation of the ‘Ten Characters’ and his fundamental artistic concern as a commentator on the bigger picture of Soviet life. His statement is a metaphor for the unofficial artists, such as Kabakov, working under the rule of communism and creating art with subject matters following the hierarchy imposed by the government. In the same way, the communal apartment, as ‘place’ becomes central to the work’s interpretation and understanding, symbolising the shared situation unofficial artists found themselves in, no matter what their artistic direction. It is perhaps important to note that the concept for the communal apartment came into existence after the revolution, when many families with nothing in common and which came from differing ethnic and religious backgrounds were crammed together under one roof. The notion that the communal turns every individual into his or her own artist transforming their rooms, such as in the ‘Ten Characters’ into artworks, makes Kabakov’s installation a visual metaphor for the unofficial ‘art community’ that was working in Moscow at the time. The Composer, an integral element of Kababkov’s installation, symbolises an unofficial artist who during the height of the Soviet Union aims at pursuing different goals and interests, than those expected of him. Kabakov presents each of his ‘Ten Characters’ as different unofficial artists working during this time – using the communal apartment as a metaphor for the State, which absorbs individuals into its system and ways of life. Kabakov as a result, metamorphoses each of his characters into symbolic figures, who through their differing, unofficial ways of life communicate the internal Soviet ways to an external Western world. “In ‘Ten Characters’ all of the rooms of the apartment are inhabited solely by artists. Each is immersed in a personal dream – and yet they all live in the same apartment. The work is about communication, a close, everyday cohabitation dominated by internal isolation. The communal apartment symbolises the quality of life under Soviet Communism…” (D. A. Ross, ‘The Movable cave, or Kabakov’s Self-memorials’ in Ilya Kabakov, London, 2002, p. 60) Many things in one, Kabakov is a poet, a reporter, a storyteller in prose, and a ‘portraitist’, who through painting or installation never reveals the identity of his ‘sitters’ directly. He is an environmental sculptor and an understated magician when it comes to transmitting his unfailing sense of humanity and the length to which people can be driven by ridiculous living conditions. It is his unique ability of putting together a raw installation, in which he transports his western audience across the ocean to a sombre Soviet atmosphere. It is in within this context that we confront Kabakov’s seminal installation ‘Ten Characters’ one of which is this monumental work The Composer. Although the objects found within The Composer’s room are left as reminders of his persona, his dreams and passions – they have become memento mori for a Soviet collective past and present that has been overshadowed and overlooked. Kabakov’s The Composer is a seminal work illustrating the will and determination of a single human being who despite his living conditions continues to work and live in optimism and hope. The installation becomes an allegory – a visual testimony of Kabakov’s own memories and observations of Soviet Russia. “When I submerge into my childhood world, I see it inhabited by a number of the most strange and comic individuals, neighbours of our large, communal apartment. Each one of them it seemed to me then, had an unusual idea, one all-absorbing passion belonging to him alone.” (Ilya Kabakov taken from Ilya Kabakov 10 Characters, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 1988, n.p) His recollections have been his base material throughout his artistic career, giving him a platform to communicate his experiences as both resident and unofficial artist within Soviet Russia, making his works visual statements of a past, ‘conducted’ for a contemporary society. Although raw, his installations are evocative forcing his viewers to walk around and physically interact with each and every aspect they present, rather than just observe them. It is the phenomenological experience on part of the spectator they all evoke that makes his installations such as The Composer powerful visual metaphors of life under communist rule and testimonies of survival – they are works that educate, inform and enlighten. In creating his ‘total installation’ Kabakov had consciously designated four different possible arrangements for his ‘Ten Characters’. In offering the possibility of configuring this work in various ways, one may assume that Kabakov proposes an interpretation of his work, in which a choice is presented in relation to its set-up (cf. Figure 1). The diagram with its four differing configurations becomes a metaphor for a world outside of that of the Soviet Union – a world where having a selection was no longer a taboo for artists and institutions. The work’s expressive power and intriguing nature has been fundamental to its reception within Western society, having been exhibited in a number of major art institutions, only just a year after the work’s execution. In addition to this, five of the ‘Ten Characters’ have been acquired by key museums, as integral parts of the permanent collections – these include; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Le Centre Georges Pompidou, Musee national d’art modern, Paris; Städtische Galerie im Lembachhaus, Munich; The Dodge Collection, Rutgers University, New Jersey; and Museum for Samtidskunst, Oslo. The fact that these museums have obtained five of the ‘Ten Characters’ of this ‘total installation’ as parts of their own collections provides this insightful work with prestige, historical significance and curatorial presence. Figure 1. Installation diagram


The Composer

42 music stands with accompanying collage drawing, glass bottles and paper fly.
Each music stand: 122 x 30.5 x 50. 8 cm. (48 x 12 x 20 in). Each drawing/text: 50.2 x 34.9 cm.(19 3/4 x 13 3/4 in).

£500,000 - 700,000 ‡♠

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

28 Feb 2008, 7pm