Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Not Everyone Will Be Taken into the Future at Tate Modern
The new – and intriguingly titled – exhibition at Tate Modern is the first major museum exhibition in the UK of work by artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The members of this artistic duo are some of the most celebrated Russian artists of their generation, and the show is being staged to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution.
Ilya Kabakov started working as an artist in the 1960s. However, the official Soviet artistic style of Social Realism didn’t allow space for abstraction, conceptual art or the use of installation or found objects. This meant that Kabakov was forced to work in secret, supporting himself as an illustrator of children’s books. The first rooms of the exhibition show all the hallmarks of an artist working in relative isolation: flitting between artistic styles, experimenting with wildly different media and ideas.
One highlight is his 1985 work, The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment, an installation recreating a dingy room in a Soviet communal living block. In the middle of the room, however, there is a strange bungee apparatus and, looking up, there is a hole in the ceiling, as if the room’s resident has escaped his humdrum life by catapulting himself into space. A whole ream of metaphors and ideas suggest themselves through this simple concept, cleverly playing on ideas of the Space Race and art as escapism.
In 1987, Kabakov was finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union and travelled to the United States, where he met Emilia, who quickly became his partner in art and in life. Working collaboratively, the Kabakovs offer a very different model for artistic production, and some of what they have produced is strikingly powerful.
The star of the show is a fascinating and wholly unexpected installation entitled Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album) (1990). It begins with an unobtrusive door in the side of the gallery; enter it, and you’ll find a winding corridor that takes you in a spiral and out again. Claustrophobically recreating the corridors of Soviet buildings, the installation is both off-putting and intriguing, making you want to go on and go back simultaneously.
The exhibition is an exciting chance to get to know the work of artists who have been previously underappreciated in the UK. In addition to this, this sensitively curated show offers a rare opportunity to see several “total”, or whole-room installations exhibited together, giving an unusually deep insight into an installation practice that isn’t usually possible.
Featured Image: Ilya Kabakov, Holiday #1, 1987
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Not Everyone Will Be Taken into the Future is at Tate Modern from 18th October 2017 until 28th January 2018. For further information or to book visit the Tate Modern website here.