The exhibition ‘In the Making: Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: From Drawing to Installation’ at The Museum for Architectural Drawing brings together a selection of sketches and colourful drawings of the acclaimed conceptual artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov.
Since the late eighties the artist duo has created fantastical spaces that they call ‘total’ installations immersing the viewer in stories not only about their past in the USSR, where they both were born and raised, but also and most importantly about utopian dreams. The Kabakovs always create the concept for an installation together and Ilya transfers their ideas to paper.
Ilya’s graphic skill can be traced back to his classical education from the Surikov Art Institute, and while working as children’s book illustrator in Moscow long before the West paid any attention to him. In the 1960s, a small group of dissident artists – among whom Ilya was a central figure – created an unofficial art movement later called Moscow Conceptualism, addressing the dilemmas and failures of socialism.
In the eighties Kabakov created the installation TheMan Who Never Threw Anything Away consisting of personal little objects. The use of common objects – things which help to create an atmosphere of memory – becomes a key instrument in his work and he began to incorporate them in the artists’ walkable room installations. He first garnered public attention in the West when he showed his works in a large solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1985. Two years later he took a six months residency at Kunstverein Graz, Austria and in 1988 began working with Emilia, who at the time was workingin New York as an art adviser and curator. Like Ilya, she comes from Dnepropetrovsk (today Dnipro) and knew him as a teenager. They married in 1992 and continued their collaboration.
The show brings together a selection of sketches and colourful drawings for opera and their famous installations TheToilet realized at the IX Kassel Documenta in 1992,ThePalace of Projects permanently installed at the Zeche Zollverein, and The Red Pavilion, which was exhibited at the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993. Along with these and other drawings for built projects as well as set designs, we see ideas for their unrealized installation Vertical Opera to be performed in the Guggenheim Museum, and for an angel that falls from the sky called The Fallen Angel, an installation that was proposed for New York’s Whitney Museum. Most of the drawings on display do not reflect a thinking process that leads to their large-format installations, but rather an idea that exists from the very beginning in the minds of the artists and then through various sketches and drawings is realised.
For Kabakovs installation is largely connected to architecture and he often incorporates architectural elements in his work. What links them the most is space. The variety of drawings presents us with their beautiful body of work, and at the same time underlines the nexus between installation art and architecture.
How do the diverse exhibitions staged within the space of the Tchoban Foundation. Museum for Architectural Drawing reflect on the act of drawing?
The focus of the exhibition programme in the museum lies on bringing together a wide spectrum of architectural hand-drawing. Whether we present architectural master drawings from the Albertina museum in Vienna, Sir John Soane’s Museum in London or explore the contemporary field including Peter Cook, Alexander Brodsky and now Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Our two exhibition rooms are designed like small cabinets that provide an intimate experience to explore every detail in a hand drawing.
Rather than appealing to the extensive archive and the foundation continuously works with temporary exhibitions, why so?
From the very beginning the aim of the Museum for Architectural Drawing was to show collections from other museum and cultural institutions and to give on loan the drawings from our collection to other museums in return. To preserve and protect graphic works we cannot exhibit them longer than three till fourth month and that is why we work exclusively with temporary exhibitions.
What is the collecting policy of the foundation?
We do not have a specific policy and compared to other museum, our collection is rather small with about 3000 works on paper. We are mainly interested to have a small selection of works by significant architects individually, or single unique drawing perhaps by an unknown architect. The collection comprises drawings of the 20th and 21st century that is mainly based on donations from living architects.
What is the power of such a collection within contemporary architectural practice and discourse?
I would say the power of our collection is to use it as an education tool. In our exhibitions whether we host guest collections or show pieces from our own archive the museum explores hand drawing in all of its characteristics: a form of thought, the connection between hand and mind, a design process for buildings, theatre design and now installation art. When exhibiting contemporary architects it is interesting to observe how in the computer-generated era, a hand-drawn tradition is being perceived.
What prompted the exhibition and the interest in exhibiting the work of Ilya & Emilia Kabakov?
Sergei Tchoban, who is an architect, artist and founder of the museum and a big admirer of Ilya Kabakov, proposed the exhibition to the artist duo in 2017. To Mr. Tchoban drawings that Ilya Kabakov created for many of their ‘total’ installations are architectural.
How does it situate itself within the ambitions of the Tchoban Foundation and its approach to the act of drawing?
The Museum for Architectural Drawing explores hand drawing in all of its characteristics: a form of thought, the connection between hand and mind, a design process for buildings, architectural fantasies, film and now installation. For Kabakov, installation is largely connected to architecture, and he often incorporates architectural elements in his work. What connects them the most is space. While looking at Ilya’s drawings, one realises that he designs these worlds similar to an architect.
What informed the selection of material exhibited?
For me, it was important to underline the connection between the installation art and architecture. The selection of original drawings concentrated on Kabakovs’ famous “total” installations such as The Toilet realized at the IX Kassel Documenta 1992, The Palace of Projects permanently installed at the Zeche Zollverein, and The Red Pavilion, which was exhibited at the 45th Venice Biennale 1993 and of course other ideas built on paper.
What is the curatorial strategy?
The title of the exhibition starts with In the Making therefore drawings of unrealised projects were on display as if they are “still” In the Making. The title finishes with From Drawing to Installation: drawings of projects that were built and therefore project descriptions, photographs of the installations exhibited in various institutions and then drawings were included, showing how Drawing becomes Installation. Additionally, we show a five minute video of my visit with the Kabakovs at their studio where they live in Long Island, asking three questions in connection to architecture. Furthermore, a light installation of the drawing ‘How to Meet an Angel’ was projected on the museum’s façade until November 7th. I felt that the shape of the museum and its glassed top complimented the little man climbing the wooden construction to meet the angel(s) – angels, which are often present in Kabakovs’ work, are flying on the glassed top and are visible from far away. Drawing this encounter with light on the façade, which is covered with fragments of architectural drawings, the connection between drawing and installation, was “highlighted”.
What is for you the power of drawing within the discipline of architecture?
Since my work is with and around hand-drawings in architectural context, I believe drawing by hand is a powerful tool not only within the discipline of architecture but as a creative process of any genre. Many architects always accompany their project activity with the practice of free hand drawing. I am not an architect, so this is as far as I can go with this statement.
How important is this when it comes to documenting unrealised projects as that of the Guggenheim?
Looking at the watercolor and ink drawings for Kabakovs’ exhibition proposal for The Vertical
Opera, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, one can see a combination of art and
architecture and at the same time theatrical elements. Drawings and models remain a documentation of how the artists envisioned the idea and allow us to see what the artist had in his genius mind.