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Ilya & Emilia Kabakov

About Ilya & Emilia Kabakov

Ilya (b. 1933, Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union) and Emilia Kabakov (b. 1945, Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union) base their multidisciplinary practice on the intersection of quotidian and conceptual elements and spans drawing, painting, and installation. Ilya previously worked as a children’s book illustrator, and was part of a group of Russian artists in Moscow working outside the Soviet system. Emilia was trained in Spanish literature and music, and worked in New York as an art dealer and curator beginning in the 1970s. Their work has been collaborative since they were married in 1992. Although their background in Soviet society informs their practice, the subject matter extends beyond that experience of the social and cultural context of their past to engage universal themes of memory, fantasy, and illusion.

Press Release

  • Ilya & Emilia Kabakov

    32 East 57th Street, New York

    November 2, 2013 - January 23, 2014

    New York—Pace is pleased to present the gallery’s first exhibition of work by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Featuring seven paintings from recent series and the 2003 installation I Catch the Little White Man, Pace Gallery’s exhibition is part of a constellation of events celebrating the artists’ life and work throughout New York City this fall season. On September 27, the eighth edition of the artists’ conceptual installation, The Ship of Tolerance, premiered in Brooklyn as part of the DUMBO Arts Festival’s 17th edition. The new documentary by Amei Wallach, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: ENTER HERE, will make its U.S. premiere with a two-week run at New York’s Film Forum on November 13.

    Pace’s exhibition will be on view at 32 East 57th Street from November 2, 2013 through January 23, 2014. The catalogue will include an essay by Kate Fowle, Chief Curator for Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow and Director-at-Large at Independent Curators International (ICI), New York.

    Widely regarded as Russia’s most celebrated artists, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov are recognized for their work internationally which extends beyond their years under the Soviet Union in an address of the human condition universally. Incorporating themes of memory and illusion, their work commonly plays with the concept of a dual reality.

    With works made from 2010 to 2013, Pace’s presentation draws from four series. Three of these series: The Appearance of Collage, Vertical Painting, and Dark and Light fall into what the artist describes as “The Great Arc”. Categorizing his works from the 1970s to 2013 by meaning and aesthetic rather than chronology, Ilya divides “The Great Arc” of his work into four “Acts,” each with certain traits. At the beginning of the arc are white paintings with, as Kabakov describes, “small elements of reality.” In Act Two the elements of reality increase and by Act Three “reality covers the entire surface of the painting.” In Act Four “darkness” which the artist distinguishes from “black” begins to seep in, as seen in this exhibition with Kabakov’s Dark and Light paintings, and by the finale of Act Five “darkness covers the entire surface of the painting”.

    Throughout the arc Kabakov relies heavily on the appearance of collage to create different relationships between “reality” and “darkness”. In her essay for the catalogue curator Kate Fowle describes the artist’s use of this technique and its significance, “Culled from magazines, postcards, and photos, the imagery in all the recent series is reminiscent of a bygone time, perhaps because of the palette that Kabakov adopts. In this way, the visual aspect of the work gives a sense of the perpetual history of quotidian life, but no indication of a particular moment.” Kabakov purposefully creates fragments which are ambiguous in place and time to encourage viewers to contemplate the stability of each scene and the stability of one’s own reality.

    Drawing from Act Three, the exhibition’s The Appearance of Collage #12 (2012) and Vertical Painting (s) relish in the comfort of a canvas consumed fully by excerpts of reality. However, tension is created through composition. In Vertical Painting(s) #5, #9, and #12, each created in 2012, the composition is uniquely divided with the upper half twisted horizontally, across the upright, vertical lower, appearing as Kabakov describes as if it has been “ripped off by the wind and tossed to the side in strange tatters.” Distinguishing them from baroque works in which tense skies battle against grounding landscapes, Kabakov utilizes composition to instigate a sense of forewarning and challenge if reality has been revealed or is about to be whisked away.

    As Kabakov’s “Great Arc” continues into the fourth act, the sense of play in regard to what is real continues in the artist’s use of the illusion of collage and is increased by contrasts in color palette. In Dark and Light #5 and #9 lighter scenes of “depicted reality” are interspersed by elements of “darkness.” The contrasts in tone question which scene is at the forefront and whether reality or darkness will prevail.

    The concept of layered realities is continued throughout the exhibition in Painting With A Door #1 (2010). In this work the 2’ 3 15/16” x 5’ 8 1/2” in oil on canvas picture offers a literal “window” into a life behind closed doors. However, upon focusing on the larger scale wooden door (6’ 7 1/2” x 2’ 11 1/5”), a consuming curiosity of the unknown renders the picture obsolete and its explanation disconnected. The concept of a window into something further is present also in the artist’s 6’ 5 15/16” x 8’ 11 1/16” The Window Into My Past (2012).

    In addition to recent paintings, Pace’s exhibition will include Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s 2003 installation I Catch the Little White Man. The installation features a wooden cabinet spanning 5’ 4” x 2’ 8 1/2” x 7’ 7” high in which strings of white figures of men are illuminated behind glass.

    Following his seminal albums from 1970-1975, the artist began experimenting with three-dimensional habitats for his characters. In the beginning, these installations were relatively restricted in scope before Kabakov’s emigration to the United States in 1987 provided him with greater artistic freedom and access to large exhibition spaces. By the mid-1980s, “total” installations consumed much of the artists’ practice.

    Ilya (b. 1933, Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union) and Emilia Kabakov (b. 1945, Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union) are Russian-born, American-based artists that collaborate on environments which fuse elements of the everyday with those of the conceptual. While their art grew from the Soviet social and cultural context in which they came of age, their work still attains a universal significance.

    The Kabakovs’ work has been exhibited internationally at museums including: The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in addition to Documenta IX and the Whitney Biennial in 1997. In 1993 they represented Russia at the 45th Venice Biennale with their installation The Red Pavilion, and in 2004, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov became the first living Russian artists to have their work exhibited in the Hermitage Museum.

    Their work is included in the permanent collections of institutions worldwide including: The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Pompidou Centre, Paris; Sprengel Museum, Hanover; the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate Gallery, London; Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands, among others.

    The Kabakovs have also completed important public commissions throughout Europe and have received a number of honors and awards, including: the Praemium Imperiale Award, Tokyo (2008); Order of Friendship, Moscow (2008); Oskar Kokoschka Preis, Vienna (2002); and the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, Paris (1995.

    In 2012 the first retrospective of Ilya Kabakov’s paintings was organized by the Sprengel Museum Hannover in Germany and Henie Onstad Art Centre in Oslo, Norway. Their work was the subject of a recent exhibition at The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg entitled, Utopia and Reality: El Lissitzky, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov which is currently on view at the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow through November 24, 2013. In May 2014, the Kabakovs will present their largest installation to date at the Grand Palais, Paris for Monumenta 2014.

    The third volume of the artists’ catalogue raisonné of paintings was recently published by Kerber Verlag with text by Nicholas Cullinan and Robert Storr.

    The Kabakovs live and work in Long Island.

    More on the New York presentation of The Ship of Tolerance:

    This fall, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, in a joint collaboration with STUDIO IN A SCHOOL, presented The Ship of Tolerance, in Brooklyn Bridge Park as part of the DUMBO Arts Festival (Sept 27 – 29). The Ship of Tolerance is an award-winning project dedicated to educating and connecting children from different continents, cultures, and identities through the universal language of art. It successfully launched in Siwa, Egypt in 2005 and has since been created in Venice, Italy; San Moritz, Switzerland; Sharjah, UAE; Miami, FL; Havana, Cuba; and Moscow, Russia.

    More on Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: ENTER HERE:

    A new film on the artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov made its U.S. theatrical premiere with a two week run at Film Forum in New York City on November 13, 2013. In Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: ENTER HERE director Amei Wallach traces the husband and wife team – who have lived as U.S. citizens for decades – as they confront their tumultuous Soviet past in the dizzying Russian present. Returning to Moscow, where Ilya Kabakov had been forbidden to show his work, the artists prepare for unprecedented exhibitions of their magical walk-in installations at major venues including the famous Pushkin Museum. With a moving narrative about their struggles in Soviet Russia, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: ENTER HERE reveals the backstory that illuminates the Kabakov's life and work.

    Copyright and Credit Information: Photography courtesy Pace Gallery; © Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

    For more information about Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, please contact Concetta Duncan at 212.421.8987 / For general inquiries, please email; for reproduction requests, email

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  Film Forum is showing Amei Wallach's documentary ILYA AND EMILIA KABAKOV: ENTER HERE through November 26.   For tickets and more information, click here.

The New Yorker's Peter Schjeldahl features Ilya & Emilia Kabakov. Read more about the artists and their first exhibtion at Pace in this week's issue or online, here.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, in a joint collaboration with Studio in a School, will present The Ship of Tolerance, in Brooklyn Bridge Park on September 27, 2013 as part of the 17th annual DUMBO Arts Festival. The work will remain on view on the Brooklyn waterfront until October 13th. Click here for more information. The Ship of Tolerance is part of a constellation of events celebrating the upcoming 80th birthday of Ilya Kabakov, which includes Pace’s first exhibition with the artists this Novem



Kate Fowle

2013. Pace Gallery. Paperback

36 pages: 16 color illustrations; 11 3/16 x 10 3/16 inches



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