Ilya Kabakov - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 12, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Collection Dina Vierny, Paris

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Dina Vierny, FIAC 91, October 5 - 13, 1991; Groningen, Museum Groningen, Ex USSR. Hedendaagse kunstenaars uit het GOS, February 23 – April 20, 1992; Hamburg, Deichtorhallen, Ilya Kabakov. Der Lesesaal – Bilder, Leporellos und Zeichnungen, April 19 – July 28, 1996; Salamanca, Centro de Arte Salamanca, Comer o no comer, November 23, 2002 – January 19, 2003

  • Literature

    O. Baatschmann, B. Groys, Catalogue Raisonné - Instalations 1983-2000, Volume I, no. 52, pp. 340-345, (illustrated); Ilya Kabakov, Kabakov, Installations 1983-1995, Paris, 1995; Y. Bíró, Ilya Kabakov: C’est ici nous vivons – La cuisine communautaire, Performing Arts Journal, Vol. 18, no. 3, 1996, pp. 58-65

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I think that in every culture , in every country there is a person who is very unhappy inside himself…For almost eighty years I felt like an airplane that was fuled up with gasoline. It took time to burn this gasoline, these endless stories about Soviet civilization…”
    (Ilya Kabakov in conversation with David A. Ross taken from Ilya Kabakov, London, 2002, pg. 24)

    An author and philosopher, a sculptor and a painter, Ilya Kabakov has become one of the art world’s most influential figures; a child of communism, his work is a testament to history providing a unique aura of past, present and an idealised future.

    First exhibited in 1991 at FIAC during the Contemporary Art Fair in Paris, Kabakov’s monumental installation piece La Cuisine Communautaire from 1991 is a seminal work in the artist’s artistic repertoire. Visually capturing memory of the past in the present, Kabakov has created a work that speaks of what once was and the memories that history has left for the present. Somewhat triste and sombre in colour and raw in its materials, the work is one that is reflective of a past time. It is a work where the year of its execution, within a Post-Soviet world, mirrors the idealised future that would have been hoped for during the conditions imposed by the USSR - unbearable living situations of a past which have become a shell, a deserted instillation of memory, which becomes explored. Visually and emotionally, Kabakov’s La Cuisine Communautaire epitomises the turmoil of a Post-Soviet Russia, where the individual objects that make up the installation speak for themselves as historical account in both matter and fact.

    In the present lot, Kabakov has provided his contemporary viewers with a literal perspective – an atmosphere of abandon – a scene frozen in the memory bank of his own past and his motherland’s history. Its eerie sense and paradoxical appearance is fundamental to its cause – deserted and lacking attention and energy, objects lay around in a systematically arranged area begging the question if these 'things' are perhaps still in use or were in use not along before our arrival as viewers. The room, as if stuck in time tells a story, revealing the embellished shabby poverty that had governed the majority of civilians during the Soviet Union. The underlying message of the installation is the culmination of a story - a story that in retrospect alludes to the sad disorder of the Communist System that led to the slow degradation of its people and its society.

    With its precise and somewhat mechanical aura La Cuisine Communautaire has become a metaphor for the artist – his choice of installing the work in the form of a chapel with its dark colours and centered aisle is deliberate. The aisle acts as a vortex, sucking the viewer into the dark years of a Soviet past – into the dark years of Kabakov’s past. In this austere and isolated space, Kabakov has placed old pots and pans, kitchen utensils and towels, whilst systematically placing six buffets symmetrically across and next to each other – mirroring the number of rooms there would have been in the communal apartment.

    “The Communal Kitchen!... is worthy to become the centre of our world! It is magic – like a crystal ball; it focuses and reflects all the colours of our everyday life, all the joys and sorrows, the hopes as well as the pettiness.”
    (Ilya Kabakov taken from Y. Bíró, ‘Digging around the Ruins of Utopia’, in Performing Arts Journal, Vol. 18, No. 3, 1996, p.62)

    Although devoid of the human subject, his installation is loaded with implications of human existence and in his transformation of a simple space into La Cuisine Communautaire inhabits all the contradictions inherent in the intended experience his installation is meant to provoke. Perhaps it is this void of human presence that infuses this work with an uncanny sense – the notion that the experience of emptiness as a viewer brings back history, as if looking into a window to the past - the knowing what once was, yet not being able to see the rough banality and crowdedness these spaces would occupied. What becomes apparent is that what may seem like randomly placed objects, from the pots and pans to the bottles of wine, symbolise in fact the debris that has been left behind – an emotional weight that Kabakov, in the almost immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union, aims to express and perhaps even contextualise through La Cuisine Communautaire.

    “This is a utopian monument of the twentieth century, building Communism in one particular country. The promise of splendid future stuck in the present. And whatever once seemed like a temporary accessory as the uninhabitable co-tenancy of workers barracks became the permanent dwelling place of several generations.” (Y. Bíró, ‘Digging around the Ruins of Utopia’, in Performing Arts Journal, Vol. 18, No. 3, 1996, p. 59)

    The engagement with his own memories is a re-occurring theme throughout Kabakov’s body of work, visually exploring and expressing the banality of everyday Soviet life. In this present lot, Kabakov has undoubtedly presented an image of the past that would have been 'governed' by a close everyday co-habitation clearly indicated in La Cuisine Communautaire. The extreme physical and spatial proximity existing in this work symbolise life under Soviet Communism, re-enacting metaphorically the communal way of living that so many were subjected to. Its raw structure almost forces spectators to enter into that past realm and by means of just physically walking around the limited space, yet being forced to keep some distance due to the railing – an action encouraged by the artist to try and comprehend the structure of the past.

    With his unique artistic qualities, Kabakov, a child of Communism has artistically emerged as one of the most influential artists of his time. His work is filled with memory, contemplation and reflection, both personally and socially. His “art lives on the promise of a durability that transcends the boundaries of the context in which it is produced. The artwork is made in the expectation that it will live beyond the context of its production, that it will be perceived in the other times and the other places that we cannot predict…” (B. Groys, ‘The Movable Cave, or Kabakov’s Self-memorials’ in Ilya Kabakov, 1998, London, p. 41)

    Although created in the aftermath of the Soviet Union, Kabakov’s La Cuisine Communautaire is a powerful example of a work presenting catacombs of a past both on a personal as well as a universal level. His use of various objects and his choice of setting have become props – props which for Kabakov as both artist and once a civilian of Soviet Russia recreate the absurdity and frustrations of Soviet-Communist life. His carefully thought through colour scheme confers a sterile ambiance, communicating a past without really describing it. Moreover, Kabakov’s La Cuisine Communautaire is a visual exploration of the history of the Communist Utopia after its downfall metamorphosing his 'total installations' into actual an event. He builds his installations on the image-bank of his own background and rather than placing his art into an existing space, he completely transforms it, although only temporarily, into an environment of his own. His work is the result of transforming space into place, making this the essence of his works.


La Cuisine Communautaire (The Communal Kitchen)

Six wooden kitchen work stations, six wooden panels with kitchen utensils, plastic tablecloths and four metal dividers.

Wooden panel: 27 1/2 x 47 1/4 in. (70 x 120 cm) each; Work station: 35 5/8 x 37 3/8 x 22 3/8 in. (90 1/2 x 95 x 57 cm) each; Metal dividers: 136 5/8 in. (347 cm) each.

£350,000 - 450,000 ‡♠

Sold for £692,000

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Evening Sale
13 October 2007, 4pm