First comprehensive exhibition in Israel of works by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov opens in Tel Aviv

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First comprehensive exhibition in Israel of works by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov opens in Tel Aviv
At the Studio #1, 2018, oil on canvas.

TEL AVIV.- Tel Aviv Museum of Art is presenting the first comprehensive exhibition in Israel of works by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, celebrated artist duo in the 20th century, known as pioneers of installation art.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov worked together as an artist duo in their Long Island, New York home from 1989 until Ilya's recent passing on May 27, 2023, at the age of 89.

"Tomorrow We Fly" at Tel Aviv Museum of Art is the first exhibition of their work presented worldwide after Ilya Kabakov's death.

The exhibition explores the place of this artist duo in the conceptual art scene, sketching the trajectory of their art, from the beginning of Ilya Kabakov's career as an "unofficial" artist in Moscow, through his move to the west in 1987 and the ensuing collaboration with Emilia, which began in 1989. Ilya and Emilia Kabakov are best known for their large-scale "total installations," which draw on the visual culture of the Former Soviet Union while addressing universal themes such as hope, anxiety, and failure.

The Kabakovs' total installations are autonomous "sets" installed in museum halls, comprising architectural elements and paintings. The theatrical situations they stage surround the viewer and furnish a direct and unmediated experience in a different reality, largely drawing on life in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. The Kabakovs' groundbreaking work challenges accepted hierarchies, conventions, and narratives while juxtaposing past, present, and future, thus prompting its viewers to critical thinking, as active participants. Allegorically, it raises questions that surpass the realms of art, and are addressed to all human beings.

The exhibition at Tel Aviv Museum of Art explores the political, cultural, and generational contexts of art and its ability to generate change, especially in times of crisis. In the current cultural climate throughout the world and particularly in Israel, it explores art's power to transcend the boundaries of the museum through the imagination. Spanning two central halls in the Museum's main building, the exhibition features oil paintings from different periods in Ilya Kabakov's oeuvre, alongside some of the Kabakovs' iconic installations, including Not Everyone Will be Taken Into the Future, which debuted at the 2001 Venice Biennale.

Ilya Iosifovich Kabakov, considered the father of Russian conceptual art, was born in 1933 in Dnipropetrovsk, USSR (now Dnipro, Ukraine) to Jewish parents. From the 1930s onward, artists in the Soviet Union were obliged to create exclusively in the official style of Socialist Realism, declared by Stalin. As part of these restrictions, between 1955 and 1987 Kabakov earned a livelihood illustrating children's books in the sanctioned official style. Simultaneously, however, he worked secretly in his Moscow studio as an "unofficial" artist. Kabakov was not permitted to leave the Soviet Union until 1987, when he was offered a residency at Kunstverein Graz, Austria. A year later he left for New York, where he renewed contact with Emilia (originally - Lekach).

Emilia Lekach Kabakov, born in 1945—also in Dnipropetrovsk—was trained as a classical pianist in the Music College in Irkutsk, and studied Spanish language and literature at Moscow University before emigrating to the United States in 1975. Ilya and Emilia began their artistic partnership in the 1980s, and in 1992 they got married. Together they created an extensive body of installations and conceptual works, discussing the human condition and concepts such as utopia and dream, imagination and anxiety.

The Kabakovs' work has been featured in major museums throughout the world, including the MoMA, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington; and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; as well as in international exhibitions such as Documenta IX, Kassel (1992) and The Whitney Biennial, New York (1997). In 1993 they represented Russia at the Venice Biennale with the installation the Red Pavilion, and in 2017 a retrospective of their work was staged at Tate Modern, London, in collaboration with the Hermitage State Museum, St. Petersburg, and the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

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