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Ilya and Emilia Kabakov organize exhibition of their work with that of El Lissitzky at Van Abbemuseum
El Lissitzky, model: Wolkenbügel, (1925) reconstruction 2009. Collection Van Abbemuseum. Photo: Peter Cox.
EINDHOVEN.- The Van Abbemuseum asked the artists Ilya (1933) and Emilia (1945) Kabakov to organise an exhibition of their work together with that of El Lissitzky (1890-1941), as guest curators. For the Lissitzky – Kabakov exhibition they made an extensive selection from their own work and that of Lissitzky. It is the first time that the oeuvres of these famous 20th-century Russian artists are being presented together. Bringing together Lissitzky and the Kabakovs completes the circle which started with the revolutions in the early years of the twentieth century and finished with the upheavals of 1989. The confrontation between early Soviet art and that of the later Soviet era presents opportunities for a better understanding of the art and culture of the intervening period. In addition to works from the collection of the Kabakovs and the Van Abbemuseum, there are loans from the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and Centre Pompidou in Paris, as well as from a number of private collections. Some of the Kabakovs’ installations have also been recreated for this occasion. The exhibition is part of NLRF2013, the Dutch – Russian year and travels to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Multimedia Art Museum (MAMM) in Moscow in 2013.

Traditionally the artist has been seen as someone who holds up a mirror to the society he lives in. But art is also assigned the role of showing us a new world. In this exhibition these two functions of art are played out against each other in many different ways. Lissitzky’s enthusiasm for the revolution and his involvement in the new social order is present everywhere in the exhibition. In contrast, we constantly come across the Kabakovs’ melancholic but also humoristic representation and interpretation of the conditions in the late Soviet era. The mother country of both the artists had become a place where the rhetoric of progress had run aground on the everyday reality of life in that society. Nevertheless, it proved possible to re emerge from this twilight zone.

Two sides of the Soviet coin
The Lissitzky – Kabakov exhibition takes place on two floors in the new building of the Van Abbemuseum and is designed by the Kabakovs. The first floor and the seven halls on the second floor each have their own theme and a different aspect of the works of Lissitzky and Kabakov is compared every time. Each room is divided in two; one part is decorated with geometric patterns in avant-garde colours (red, white and black), exhibiting the work of Lissitzky. The work of the Kabakovs can be seen in the other part of the room painted in colours which were used in public spaces in the Soviet Union in the 1980s: a brown line on the wall with a blue edge.

Some of the important works in the Kabakovs’ oeuvre that form part of this exhibition include The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment (1985, collection Centre Pompidou, Paris), In the Communal Kitchen (1991, courtesy Regina Gallery Moscow) and a newer version of the wagon entitled Let’s go Girls (2004, collection Ilya and Emilia Kabakov). The existing Lissitzky collection of the Van Abbemuseum is supplemented with key works from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and new models based on designs by Lissitzky, such as the Lenin Tribune and the Red Star for the Pressa Exhibition of 1928. The lives of the artists themselves are represented in a large mural designed by Ilya Kabakov, and their
personal history is interwoven in the larger (art) historical stories of which they form part.





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