We are now drawing closer to the end of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s successful exhibition at Tate Modern. Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into The Future is a retrospective on the oeuvre of the two conceptual artists, whose career started in the Soviet Union during the years of the Cold War. Ilya Kabakov, who was born in Ukraine, studied at the Art School of Moscow, while Emilia was a student of Spanish in the same city. Their artistic partnership began in the 1980s and they eventually got married in 1992. In fact, the exhibition encompasses also the earlier production of Ilya Kabakov before meeting his future wife. The show consists of ten rooms, arranged in a thematic order and completed with exhaustive presentations of the displayed artworks. Informative booklets accompany the viewer, providing translations of the Russian texts embedded in each piece.
Tested! – Ilya Kabakov – 1981
Under the Soviet regime, artists were not free to operate independently. Socialist realism was the official style and a limited number of subjects were allowed. Indeed, Art had to celebrate the state and the happiness brought by the Communist rule. Artists like Ilya Kabakov, who attacked these limitations to freedom with their art, had to operate in secret. While in Moscow, Ilya experimented in his studio and shared the fruit of his work with a small group of fellow artists and intellectuals. In Tested!, the artist depicts a woman being given back her party card after having proven her allegiance to the principles of Marxism. The chosen style mimics the stiff figures of socialist realism while the written text criticises the Soviet system of inquisition. In fact, the subject stems from real facts and Ilya’s mother found herself in a similar situation. In Ilya’s early production, art becomes an instrument of dissent.
The Man Who Flew Into Space from His Apartment – Ilya Kabakov – 1985
The exhibition features a variety of installations from the couple. The detailed settings designed by the Kabakovs provide an immersive experience for the visitors, who are asked to enjoy art beyond the traditional viewer-artwork frontal approach. In Three Nights, monoculars allow the observer to discover hidden details of the wall-size paintings occupying three sides of the room. The Man Who Flew Into Space from His Apartment reproduces the interior of a Russian communal apartment. The visitor is asked to come close to a wall and gaze through a hole in it, thus discovering a messy room covered in propagandistic posters. Outside, a story written by Ilya explains what happened. The installation transforms the viewer into a voyeur, entering the intimacy of a private space. This shows Ilya’s criticism of Soviet communal apartments, where people were constantly exposed to the gaze of their fellow tenants.
Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into The Future – Ilya and Emilia Kabakov – 2001
The exhibition brings to the UK an astonishing ensemble of the Kabakovs’s oeuvre before and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The thematic arrangement allows the visitor to focus on specific themes, while the variety of displayed objects portrays the complexity of the artists’ production. I strongly recommend this show, which is able to evoke an entire path of artistic evolution across decades. The curators highlighted excellently the context in which Ilya and Emilia worked, thus providing a solid background for the visitor to fully understand the sophistication of each piece. Events such as this secure indeed that the works of these two artists will find a place in our future memory.