Russian Art Stars Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at Pace Gallery


The husband-and-wife team is now receiving widespread recognition and acclaim, thanks to an exhibition at Pace Gallery and a documentary at Film Forum.
It is turning out to be a banner year for Emilia and Ilya Kabakov, perhaps Russia’s best-known living artists. Although superstars overseas—commanding multimillion-dollar prices for their canvases, sculptures, and installations—the conceptualist pair is less known in the U.S., despite having spent the past two decades on Manhattan and Long Island.

“There is no other Russian figure since 1933 who has the kind of international stature as [Ilya] has,” says Robert Storr, the dean of Yale University School of Art, early in a film about the Kabakovs, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here, which premiered at New York’s Film Forum on November 13. The documentary, directed by Amei Wallach, centers on the couple’s 2008 return to Russia to open three separate exhibits. Amidst the fantastical constructions—including insects suspended on strings to create a gossamer cupola—the film explores the symbiotic relationship between husband and wife. Ilya is the ideas man, silently puttering around with his installations beneath tufts of unkempt white hair; Emilia is the make-it-happen muse, murmuring orders into a cell phone to keep curators in line and commanding a small army of contractors and artisans to bring her husband’s vision to life.

Now on view at the Pace Gallery in New York is an exhibition of the Kabakovs’ paintings. One canvas, their seminal Dark and Light #9, seems to depict a Russian Realist–style scene in a Soviet art gallery being pulled apart by white and black spaces. The ironic, provocative, and often witty visions of the Soviet Union’s failed utopia lose none of their power on this side of the Atlantic.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s work is on view at Pace Gallery in New York through December 21;

The documentary Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here is on view at the Film Forum, New York;