Ilya Kabakov, Concept Drawing (1992). Chalk, colored pencil, and ballpoint pen drawing. Courtesy Ilya and Emilia Kabakov and the University of Chicago Press.
On Art, a new collection of essays by Ilya Kabakov, recently translated and edited into English by Matthew Jesse Jackson, begs a closer look at the life of an artist in permanent flux.
One reason Ilya Kabakov's decades-long career is so interesting is that it maps with cartographic intensity life under a broken Soviet system, later transformed by acceptance in the market-driven west. At 85, he is still active and interested in the contradictions of the human experience, it's vicissitudes. Unbound to any particular geography or ideology, artistic style or medium, Kabakov remains today, as he has for decades, a cultural enigma, straddled between worlds, if not directly plugged into the Higgs Boson of the cosmos itself.
On earth, Kabakov was born in 1933 in Dnipropetrovsk, in what was then the Ukrainian SSR of the Soviet Union. Kabakov's rise to celebrated international artist followed a winding, unlikely path. Born to a working class, Jewish family, he attended what was then — in 1945 — the most prestigious art academy in the USSR: the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow.