Ilya Kabakov Obituary, Death – Ilya Kabakov, an artist whose massive works fiercely targeted the Soviet Union’s shattered ambitions, ushering in new possibilities for installation art in the process, died on Saturday at the age of 89. That following day, his family reported his demise. Kabakov took up the various failures of the Soviet Union, where he lived for decades before leaving for the West, in gigantic constructions.
Kabakov provided audiences all over the world with heightened versions of the reality he lived by fleshing out the lives of imagined characters through room-size artworks. Kabakov’s views were unsparing, sorrowful, and clearly critical of the state, and were thus completely unlike the Soviet Union’s government-approved art. As a result, he rose to prominence in the Soviet Union’s “unofficial” art scene, secretly—and even dangerously—creating work that existed outside of the mainstream.
These works were not permitted to be exhibited in the Soviet Union, but they could be performed elsewhere. With the Cold War’s end, Kabakov achieved popularity in the West—and ended up changing art-making in Russia, where many artists have drawn inspiration from his work. When he and his wife Emilia were honoured with a retrospective at Tate Modern in 2018, art historian Claire Bishop dubbed him “the paradigmatic installation artist.”
Kabakov had his debut in 1988, when he opened a solo exhibition at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York and became an overnight sensation. “Ten Characters,” the show he put up there, was a collection of installations that resembled the 10-room shared flat where Kabakov grew up. Shared flats like that one were popular among those who couldn’t afford to live alone, and Kabakov remembered his in the guise of rooms occupied by unseen characters.
The most renowned of them, The Man Who Flew Into area From His Flat (1988), had a cloistered area with walls covered in propagandistic Soviet images. A rusted catapault hung beneath a torn-open hole in the ceiling in its centre, likely launching himself out of this area. If the Soviet Union promised human advancement through the space race, this dweller seemed to have taken matters into his own hands, only to fall short of the stars.