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A Gallery of Thoughts on Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

Ilya Kabakov and the Ironic Nostalgia for Soviet Utopia

Ilya Kabakov and his wife, Emilia, are among the most celebrated artists of their generation, widely known for their large-scale installations and use of fictional personas. They are best known for their ‘total’ installations, which completely immerse the viewer in a dramatic environment. They transform the gallery spaces they are displayed in, creating a new reality for the viewer to enter and experience. Their recent exhibition in London's Tate, entitled "Not Everyone Will Be Taken into the Future" has drawn world-wide attention.

Kabakov's earlier paintings, however, deserve just as much attention. His 1982 painting, "Beetle," was recently sold for almost 3 million Euros. The Russian artist didn't really have to change his illustrations and paintings much in order to parody the esthetics in the Soviet Union - the main inspiration for his earlier works.  In the Soviet Russia, artists had to adhere to the official style of Socialist Realism, which celebrated the state and the heroes and heroines of the revolution.

Kabakov had worked as a graphic artist and children’s book illustrator for the state publishing houses. It was enough to decorate those paintings with evenly spaced paper flowers, and thus add irony to them. Exhibiting in the west for the past four decades, one could say that the Kabakovs exploited the Western fascination with the Soviet Socialist utopia to make a name and fortune for themselves. With his creative power and imaginative genius, they entirely deserves it, though.

Ilya Kabakov was born in 1933 in Dniepropetrovsk, now in independent Ukraine. From 1945 to 1951, he studied at the Art School in Moscow. In 1957, he graduated from the V. I. Surikov State Art Institute, where he specialised in graphic design and book illustration. During the Khruschev "Thaw," Kabakov was a member of the Sretensky Boulevard Group of artists, whose studios served as venues to show and exchange ideas about unofficial art. In the 1970s, he gradually moved to conceptual art. Kabakov emigrated in 1987, first to Austrian, then to USA. In 1988 and 1989, he had exhibitions in New York, Bern, Venice and Paris. In 1998 he began working with Emilia, his distant cousin, who soon became his wife. They have exhibited 155 exhibitions since. The Kabakovs reside in Long Island, New York.

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