The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away (The Garbage Man)


YEAR: 1988



See installation “Ten Characters,” Cat No 15


The artist

1995, Collection Museet for Samtidskunst, Oslo


New York, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts
Ten Characters, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts 30 Apr 1988 — 4 Jun 1988 (as part of No 15, Ten Characters)

London, Institute of Contemporary Art
Ilya Kabakov. The Untalented Artist and Other Characters at the ICA London 23 Feb 1989 — 23 Apr 1989 (as part of No 15, Ten Characters)

Zurich, Kunsthalle Zürich
Das Schiff – Die Kommunalwohnung, Zwei Installationen von Ilya Kabakov 2 Jun 1989 — 30 Jul 1989 (as part of No 15, Ten Characters)

Washington, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Directions. Ilya Kabakov. Ten Characters 7 Mar 1990 — 3 Jun 1990 (as part of No 15, Ten Characters)

Toronto, The Power Plant
Ilya Kabakov/John Scott 15 Nov 1991 — 5 Jan 1992 (as part of No 15, Ten Characters)

Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
Europa-Europa 26 May 1994 — 11 Oct 1994


The installation is a narrow, small room, more like a short, irregularly-shaped corridor with two doors, one of which is always closed.

Inside, the entire room is similar to a kind of museum. Everywhere can be seen collections of innumerable ‘garbage’ items – scraps of paper, rags, empty boxes, jars – gathered into bunches, packages, all carefully arranged in cabinets (there are two of them in the room), in glass display cases, glued on special cardboard stands, hanging on the walls. Everything, even the tiniest junk, has a label attached to it, an inscription, everything is numbered and catalog…

This is both a unique museum and a residential room where the resident, compriser, and master of this garbage museum lives, but there is no normal furniture visible, no empty table, nor a chair, except for a narrow trestle-bed pushed into the corner behind the dresser under a shelf with a collection of jars.

On this same shelf stands an explanation screen which tells a little about the resident of this room and about his hobby.


I sat for almost 30 years in my attic studio. I would leave the house early, at 8 o’clock (it was an hour away by car or metro), and I would go up to my attic, to my studio. I would walk past the trash and garbage boxes near the gate, through the inner courtyard that was dirty, covered with junk and dust in the summer, or with white, melting also dirty snow in the winter, and I would go up the back stairs (through the back entrance). As I made my way up to the fifth floor, I ran into two buckets of garbage with table scraps on each landing, one on each side, near the doors to two communal kitchens which opened onto the landings. Shouts, both male and female, could be heard coming from each side. Sometimes the doors would open and a woman would step out in a bathrobe to scrape the leftovers from the plate into the garbage bucket. I would slowly ascend higher and higher past this morning life up to the old stone steps, the edges of which were already ground down as if with a file. I would run into the janitor of our building crashing down from above with an enormous metal trough full of kitchen trash. The trough would be coming down the steps ahead of him, and he would hang onto it with a long rope so that it wouldn’t fly down the stairs. I was able to put it all together with an unexpected, sudden illumination: the trough, the janitor, and the chopped off steps. For this trough, sliding down over the course of 70 years (the building was built in 1902) had ground down the edges of the stairs. “A trough grinds stone.”

Finally, I would reach the last, attic landing. It was also filled with old junk, but the objects which the residents brought here (only so they didn’t have to drag them to the dump near the building entrance) were large: an old oak kitchen cabinet with chiseled columns, enormous beds, a wall unit, a gigantic broken mirror in a carved frame. Every morning or almost every week something new would appear there. Stunned by the beauty of a few things, I would drag them into my studio and use them – tables, chairs, an old couch. (True, with the latter I also acquired an enormous number of bedbugs which gnawed on me mercilessly all night when I would spend the night in the studio.)

… I would open the metal door with my key and pass across the wooden plank under the very roof, among garbage and other junk preserved here since the day the house was built and brought here by the residents over all these years … It is a long passageway about two hundred steps. At the end of this whole journey, I would open the door to the studio at the end of the attic and enter ‘home.’ I would sit down on the chair. I would look around. I must continue drawing, I must paint what I began yesterday, finish the work for the publishing house which they have been expecting for a long time now. But I don’t do any of this. Like yesterday, and all the days before that, for some reason, I open a package with old paper and notes, and I slowly begin to rearrange these pages in senseless dissipation – this was the same kind of foolish garbage that surrounds me, but it was my personal garbage, accumulated during my stay in the attic. All kinds of junk, all kinds of scraps would radiate a bundle of memories: what happened, how that memory was connected with the scrap, the remnant…

I would write something down and place it next to another thing in the folder so that next time I could remember what moment that note related to.



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1988Megan BartonComment