Ten Albums


YEAR: 1985



Version 2

Private Collection, USA.

Collection Musée national d’art modern. Centre de création industrielle, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

Version 3 (Graphic edition 1997)

Collection Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, since 1998.


Version 1

Ilya Kabakov. Am Rande, Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, 31 August – 18 November 1985;

Ilya Kabakov. En Marge, Galerie de la Vieille Charité, Marseille, 18 January – 2 March 1986;

Ilya Kabakov. Am Rande, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf, 6 June – 3 August 1986;

Kabakov, Centre National des Arts Plastiques, Paris, 19 November 1986 – 11 January 1987.

Version 2

10 Alben, Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, 8 October – 6 November 1988;

10 Albums, 10 Characters, Riverside Studios, London, 21 February – 2 April 1989;

Ilya Kabakov. Leikkaussali (Äiti ja poika), Nykytaiteen Museo, Helsinki, 3 February – 10 April 1994 (as part of No 78, The Operating Room (Mother and Son));

Ilya Kabakov. Operasjonssal (Mor og sønn), Museet for Samtidskunst, Oslo, 8 October 1994 – 8 January 1995 (as part of No 78, The Operating Room (Mother and Son)).

See No 78.

Version 3 (Graphic edition 1997)

Ilya Kabakov. Der Lesesaal – Bilder, Leporellos und Zeichnungen, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, 19 April – 28 July 1996 (Selection, as part of No 90, The Reading Room);

16 Installaties, muhka, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerp, Antwerp, 17 April – 23 August 1998 (Selection, as part of No 90, The Reading Room);

Szenenwechsel xiv, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, 18 June 1998 – 3 January 1999.

See No 90.


In a large square dwelling (16 x 10 x 5 meters) five long tables (12.5 x 1.2 x 0.48 meters) are arranged in a zigzag fashion so that together they form a labyrinth with a passageway 60 cm wide where only two people can pass. The tables are painted white, and white fabric is stretched around their legs. On each table, along its entire length, cardboard screens with drawings on them are arranged vertically so that the drawings are facing the opposite way, in the direction of the passage. The height of each screen is 55 cm. The viewer, walking along the labyrinth, examining the drawings from both sides and reading the texts under them, learn the history of ten characters. But there is still one more album in this place, My Mother’s Album. Separate pages from it are arranged in old wooden frames at the level of human height, while the album itself engirds the entire space of the exhibit: we see it at the end of each bend of the labyrinth. This is my mother’s actual biography, written by her own hand. A green strip of ‘imitation wood’ is glued along the top edge of the walls in the hall, also at the level of human height.

The installation represents a labyrinth formed from a multitude of tall and narrow tables on which, in turn, are placed glass frames connected with loops in such a way that a long row of such frames is formed. These are placed at an angle to one another similar to a long screen. There are sketches (all formatted the same way) in these frames, all together forming various stories of invented ‘characters.’ There are ten such stories, the same number as there are characters.

It’s as though all of them are the inner ‘voices’ of the author himself. The author is trying to express various problems that are bothering him, so to speak, via an ‘indirect’ method by using these unique ‘heroes,’ characters, just like any writer does when he expresses various ideas, personifying them in various characters, ‘psychologizing’ them (Dostoevsky is an appropriate example here).

Hence, Ten Characters is a description of 10 ‘psychologized’ ideas depicted in their development from the very beginning to their logical conclusion. In the album Sitting-in-the-Closet Primakov is the image of existence in a closed space, isolation of oneself from other people, shutting oneself off in total solitude, in darkness. But ‘flying out’ of the closet of such a character leads not to acquiring life, a real horizon, but still that same emptiness, only now it is not black but white.

In the album The Joker Gorokhov, the ‘humorous’ attitude toward life comes under criticism as a way of perceiving one’s surroundings that is too light, non-conflictual.

In the album, Generous Barmin, what is analyzed is the capability and desire of each person to ‘define’ another person, to impart to him various qualities, as a rule, that have nothing in common with the actual person.

In the album Agonizing Surikov, the character suffers because life, the meaning of life, is concealed from him by a film. He sees only parts, shreds, fragments through this curtain.

The album Anna Petrovna Has a Dream tells about a soul that no longer has a material, physical shell. This soul travels amidst our world, not touching anything, and ultimately it flies off, abandoning this world.

The Flying Komarov is a utopia of bliss, a state of eternal hovering, suspension between heaven and earth, between a dream and reality.

In Mathematical Gorsky we have the fear of winding up in a compulsory series with ‘others,’ a desire no matter what to ‘leave the series,’ to abandon it.

The album The Decorator Malygin is about the impossibility, the lack of desire, to wind up in the ‘center,’ to step out into the ‘middle,’ about the desire to hide in the corner, to be ‘on the edge,’ ‘on the side.’

The Released Gavrilov tells about the desire to run, disappear, dissolve, lose oneself in nature, where nature is the image of happy idleness, happy non-being.

The last album of Ten Characters – The Looking- Out-the-Window Arkhipov – tells about a dying consciousness where the images of consciousness blur like temporary designs on glass, and a vision of another world emerge before one’s consciousness.

Albums – A Special Genre?

A completely different genre lies at the base of Big Labyrinth, something that relates more to the genre of ‘happenings,’ ‘shows,’ rather than to stationary expositions. This genre has been given the name albums.

Albums are a pile of thick white or gray pieces of cardboard, always of the same size, 72.5 x 35 cm, on which are glued sketches, cutouts, documents, texts, and various types of products either drawn by the author or printed.

These piles of pages (the number of pages varies from 35 to 100) are arranged in boxes that are 75 x 38 x 15 cm which is placed on music-stands in a vertical position. The viewers sit down in front of a box opened on the music stand (one of them leafs through the pages, one after another, from left to right; the author used to do this in his studio in Moscow over the course of many years for 10-12 friends who had gathered). The viewers examine the drawings and read the text.

As a genre, albums belong in the gap between a few different types of art. From literature (primarily Russian), albums have taken the narrative, a plot, a hero, but most importantly, the direct inclusion of great masses of another person’s text or those written by the author. From fine arts, each separate page of an album can exist as an independent whole, and in this sense, it can withstand the demands made of works of this type: it possesses the appropriate compositional structure which is capable of holding one’s attention, of becoming an object of contemplation. Therefore, text located on a page of the album must be written by hand in order for it to enter the realm of fine arts.

From the cinema, the album takes the change of ‘frames’ which are continually flowing before the seated viewers, the consistent size of the drawing-frame within the bounds of one album, the monotony of their fleeting past before the viewer.

But most of all albums are similar to a home theater – but not a modern theater where the action takes place in the dark so that it’s easier to involve the viewer and to hold his attention on what is happening on stage. Rather it is similar to an old theater on the square where in broad daylight, the viewer is unrestrained to observe the action and simultaneously to evaluate it.

The main characteristic of albums is the possibility for the pages to be turned by the person viewing them. Here, in addition to the viewer’s physical contact with the pages and the subsequent possibility of controlling one’s viewing time, a special effect arises while leafing through one page after another. This relates the albums to ‘temporal’ forms of art. A special experiencing of time results: anticipation, culmination, finale, repetitions, rhythm, etc.

  1. Pivovarov and I ran across this type of art simultaneously and separately from one another in the spring of 1972. From that moment, working individually, we discovered with surprise newer and newer possibilities of the genre. So far a few types of albums can be described:

  2. Albums connected with the evolution, the development of a plot, including supplements and commentaries.

  3. Monotonous albums, with the repetition of one and the same element.

  4. Chaotic albums, consisting of various groups, interruptions, etc.

  5. Albums designed to create drawn-out anticipation or the sudden appearance of a new element (similar to a koan).

From the moment of the album’s appearance, the virtues as well as the shortcomings of this genre – what it could do and what was contraindicated – became clear. Its extraordinary ‘valency’ is among its merits. Located in the gap between other forms of art, it turns out to be capable of assimilating many of their signs, of incorporating and holding within itself the most varied material. Among its negative qualities are the following:

  1. Reproduction. Albums do not at all lend themselves to reproduction, to a recasting in another form, just like other forms of contemporary art. It is impossible to convey the impression of a performance by arranging photographs of its scenes chronologically.

  2. Changes to its size. The same effect of irreplaceable loss occurs when the albums are transferred into a smaller format, for example, into a book. The small size of a book doesn’t hold one’s attention on an individual page like in the album. Furthermore, the binding of the book from the left destroys the discreteness of the individual page of an album, which is so important for this genre.

  3. Display at an exhibit. Exhibition display is also contra-indicated for the album. Although you can create a ‘compulsory’ situation in which the viewer will examine page after page in order (a corridor system or something like that), this destroys the effect of the album whereby the leafing through the pages progresses in front of a stationary, seated viewer. Whereas at an exhibit, this is always just the opposite: the pages are stationary and the viewer ‘flows’ past them.

But no matter what, it seems to us that the album as a genre is capable of independent existence, and what is even more important, it constantly reveals new potentials of its internal development.

List of the Albums

  1. Sitting-in-the-Closet Primakov

  2. The Joker Gorokhov

  3. Generous Barmin

  4. Agonizing Surikov

  5. Anna Petrovna Has a Dream

  6. The Flying Komarov


Since childhood, I have had the sensation of unbelievable noise inside me, feelings that I myself consist of an enormous multitude of voices. An unbearable noise resounding from within literally deafened me. This tangled, infinite ball did not leave me in peace either day or night, and it led to constant stress, over-excitement, and exhaustion. Each voice would interrupt, it would try to muffle the one resounding nearby, to outshout the other, and it would depart into darkness, into the indiscernible mumbling chorus of other voices. No one was the most important. They all made noise, raised a racket equally loudly. No one was so important that I began to listen to it alone, to single it out. They all seemed to me to be equally important. What was horrible was that they were not indifferent to each other. They all opposed one another, they were all critically disposed toward one another. Each one aspired to lay claim to the ‘final’ word, the ultimate truth; they were all extremely serious, ‘ontological.’ But each one set as its goal to overshadow the other, to affirm its own rightness, to achieve victory. But to me they all seemed equally just; each one was right in its own way, each one sounded convincing. Like Buridan’s ass, I was unable to make a choice and to lean toward one of them. I didn’t understand how I could reconcile them so that, without muffling and without destroying each other, they could unite into one single ensemble, to find an inner harmony. I tried to do something, to find a connection, a bridge, an arch at least between two of them, but nothing worked, nothing ever came of my efforts. There was no connection. Everything disintegrated, existed separately, on its own, like during an argument in a communal kitchen.

But in addition, I turned out to be defenseless before the voices resounding on the outside. The voices of those around me, their opinions, utterances, fragments of their speech, even when not addressed to me, continued to resound inside me as well, uniting with ‘mine,’ participating in the common heap. And, it was a strange thing: just like I couldn’t do so among ‘my own’ voices, I couldn’t distinguish the important from the unimportant ones among the external voices. Each utterance, each opinion, each word seemed to me to be weighty. It forced me to listen to it, to investigate it carefully, even to agree… I agreed, accepted; the chorus grew and the noise of the voices ‘from the outside’ and ‘from inside’ became all the more unendurable, plunging me into a state of helplessness, dissipation, complete deafness toward everything …



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1985Megan BartonComment