Ilya Kabakov (born in Dniepropetrovsk in 1933, Ukraine), worked in the Soviet Union as a children’s book illustrator until 1988. This context did not allow him to work as a ‘free’ artist. He left the Soviet Union, first of all staying in Germany and then moved to New York.
Emilia Kabakov (born in Dniepropetrovsk in 1945) studied music then experienced being a curator and gallery owner in New York from 1975. She has worked with Ilya Kabakov since 1989. They both live and work on Long Island (United States).
As Kabakov himself defines, their works of art are part of a‘Total Installation’, which signifies putting art and life in contact. His works are as much progressive, as they are romantic, and invite the spectator to concentrate on their own life, on the possibilities, the problems and the solutions with regard to their personal reality.
The main work of art presented at Galleria Continua / Le Moulin is Tennis Game, A conversation between Ilya Kabakov and Boris Groys, which re-stages the medieval custom of a philosophical argument, a type of intellectual tournament between two rivals. With a discussion of this kind, a preliminary subject was established and discussed by the two partners. The two rivals belonged to sides with different traditions and the joust was rich with abrupt movements. Here, a tennis court is surrounded by fourteen black paintings unwinding the thread of a conversation between the artist and Boris Groys: the sports game gives way to the dialectic and the sports ground becomes the scene of a re-transcribed verbal joust. The match was played by Ilya Kabakov and Boris Groys.
The spectators can watch past action on television screens. True, the players don’t have the same level as Boris Becker or Marat Safin, but the principal after all, is to love the game. At the same time, the spectators can contemplate the result of another game, written on the black painting. The dialogues between the philosopher Boris Groys and the artist Ilya Kabakov are presented like five rounds of a tennis match in which a question is served and then followed by a return shot.
Before Tennis Game, there was a preliminary study: ‘Strangers in the Arctic’, a travelling group exhibition in which the Kabakov participated in 1996, like the classic position of two players. The subject of this exhibition serves as a structure for the installation. The theme of a ‘stranger on foreign territory’ is similar to the situation between two match opponents.
What is the result of this match, who is the winner? Here, let’s quote he who resuscitated the tradition of the modern Olympic Games and pronounced the following words: "It is more important to participate than to win". This is applied to the participants themselves. What is the position of the reader/observer in such a case? It is not so obvious and everyone must judge for themselves.
Ilya & Emilia Kabakov’s work has been exhibited in many museums like the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Hirshhorn Museum (Washington DC), the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), at the Documenta IX, at the Whitney Biennial 1997, at the State Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg) and in several Venice Biennials. In 1993 for example, they represented Russia at the 45th Venice Biennial with their installation The Red Pavilion. In 2008, a large retrospective: Alternative History of Art and Other Projects – and first exhibition in Russia since leaving at the end of the 1980’s – took place in four exhibition spaces in Moscow (State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Center for Contemporary Culture Garage, Moscow, Contemporary Art Center, Winzavod, M&J Guelman Gallery). The Kabakov’s works of art feature in many public collections across Europe. They have also won a large number of honorary prizes, like the Oscar Kokoschka Preis (Vienna) in 2002, and they were made Chevaliers des Arts et des Lettres in Paris, in 1995.