Kabakov does not really care how many millions of people Stalin murdered—more
relevant to him is the way the Soviet state treated his mother like dirt. His intensely personal experiences under
Communism profoundly shaped his conceptual work, created in collaboration with
his wife, Emilia. After twenty years in the
West, Kabakov finally returns to Moscow for an ambitious series of
installations. Amei Wallach documents
their mostly triumphant homecoming in Ilya
and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday at Film Forum.
contemporaries all acknowledge the Moscow Conceptualists started with him. Like most of his colleagues, Kabakov paid the
bills illustrating children’s books. It allowed him plenty of free time to
pursue to pursue his own work, in secret of course. Arguably, the young Kabakov
was rather fortunate when the Leningrad Art School accepted him, at a time when
both pupil and institution had been evacuated to Samarkand. However, his formative art school years
remain a source of pain and anger for Kabakov.
later, Kabakov’s mother agreed to his request for a written account of her
difficult life. The narration of her
words form the film’s strongest sequences, chronicling her hand-to-mouth years,
working as the night watchman at his art school, living illegally in a
converted water-closet, because she lacked the proper residency papers. Constantly evicted by bureaucrats and
snitches, Kabakov’s mother was essentially homeless and shunned in the workers’
paradise. Her missive-memoir became the
framework for Labyrinth, My Mother’s
Album and its influence on other pieces is unmistakable.
Ilya Kabakov clearly emerges as the senior partner, Emilia Kabakov seems
perfectly content to serve as the more practical liaison with the business side
of the art world. Twelve years his
senior, Emilia Kabakov carries far less personal baggage from the Soviet years. However, it is rather eye-opening for her
coming across an old informer’s journal with her family somewhat ominously identified
as “the Jews.”
Kabakovs’ brand of conceptual art is far more accessible than what might come
to mind after watching the Herb & Dorothy documentaries. Unlike some
of their colleagues, the Kabakovs’ work is clearly both intellectually and
emotionally engaging, with their ironic use of Soviet symbols and the trappings
of crummy everyday Russian life speak volumes.
Kabakov frequently incorporates his paintings into their so-called “total
installations,” which further heightens their visual impact.
With an eye for telling details, Wallach and her
crew nicely capture a sense of the viewing experience of the Kabakovs’
installations. Likewise, she also catches
the artists, particularly Ilya, in reflective moods. Executed with sensitivity, insight, and a
dash of style, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter
Here is recommended for those who appreciate fine art and Russian history
when it opens this Wednesday (11/13) at Film Forum.
Labels: Communism, Documentary, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov