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Ilya Kabakov: An Appreciation

Ilya Kabakov

Ilya Kabakov

Dear Ilya:

Your mind is more alive than other minds to the nuance of uncertainty that exists among people. The world you describe is perilously unstable, and acutely painful. In it live lost people whose suffering is more infinite than they themselves can know. But even in their pain, you find the lightness, and it is this more than anything else that makes your work so different from that of your peers. There is always humor; you do not suffer from the idea that profundity requires perfect solemnity. This humor is a form of redemption, that makes our own lives bearable. It is a humor that caresses us. There is also always an overflow of wild imagination, an imagination that evokes the stories of childhood and the fantasies of our hearts, the secret lyricism people carry inside themselves, though they often cannot see it. We enter another world with you, one where extravagant and implausible actions make perfect sense and feel as familiar as though we were all always flying into space or sitting in the closet or being tiny white people or placing our projects in palaces. What you make seems at once impossible and true, and makes us feel that all human enterprise is both impossible and true. I characterize whole lovely experiences as Kabakov moments: a particular sensation of being able to tolerate myself, and of knowing I am not alone in the world of my strange self. When I talk about you and your work, I feel a serenity descend on me. How can such sad work make us so happy?

The Soviet man you once lampooned has become in recent years a version of everyman. Looking into your work, we recognize ourselves, and feel seen, and loved, and refreshingly absurd in our own minds and we don’t mind who we are as much as we usually do.

You and Emilia are also such dear friends and such kind people. Genius often goes with self-importance, but your geniality crackles like fire and warms the hearts of those who approach it. I feel immensely lucky to be of that number.

With love,