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During the 1960s and 1970s, the Russian conceptual artist Ilya Kabakov was a galvanizing figure in Moscow's underground art community, ultimately gaining international prominence as the “leader” of a band of artists known as the Moscow Conceptual Circle. Throughout this time, he created texts that he would distribute among his friends, and by the late 1990s his written production amounted to hundreds of pages.
            Devoted to themes that range from the “cosmism” of pre-Revolutionary Russian modernism to the philosophical implications of Moscow’s garbage, Kabakov’s handmade booklets were typed out on paper, then stapled or sewn together using rough butcher paper for their covers. Among these writings are faux Socialist Realist verses, theoretical explorations, art historical analyses, accompaniments to installation projects, and transcripts of dialogues between the artist and literary theorists, critics, journalists, and other artists.
            This volume offers for the first time in English the most significant texts written by Kabakov. The writings have been expressly selected for this English-language volume and there exists no equivalent work in any language.

432 pages | 50 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018  

Art: Art Criticism, Art--Biography, European Art

History: European History


"Kabakov is considered one of the defining figures in contemporary Russian culture. . . .  Following a brief introduction by Jackson, Kabakov's writings are arranged in chronological order, and each essay or article is prefaced by Jackson's concise comments. The writings are suffused with an autobiographical character that provides explanatory contextual information. No less significant is the concluding section, which consists of Mikhail Epstein's extended interview with Kabakov. Throughout these writings, which often assume a philosophical cast, one senses Kabakov's bracing wariness of any form of orthodoxy, including that of contemporary art criticism."


"Insights into Russian literature and writing are usually difficult to access without fluency, because the language is nuanced and referential, yet the way Jackson translates Kabakov’s writing does it justice by allowing readers in. Most of all, the book illuminates the late Soviet period and the cultures and artists that came from it. . . . Kabakov’s incisive commentary reflects on the challenges of art making against the omnipresence of life and the harsh realities it often contains — whether due to extreme social conditions, censorship, or the reality of life in the false-material utopia of the West, Kabakov’s seasoned ability to transcend ideology and maintain a critical line of thought throughout is truly remarkable."


"The book is crucial reading for scholars of contemporary Russian art, offering a vital selection of Ilya Kabakov’s texts, interviews, and recollections, with numerous texts never-before published in English."

The Russian Review

“In Russia, Ilya Kabakov is regarded as the greatest living Russian artist. Internationally he is known as one of the most important representatives of installation art. However, this book shows Kabakov as an acute observer of the Russian and international art scene. Kabakov’s essays collected here shed light on art practices long overshadowed by the political conflicts of recent decades.”

Boris Groys, New York University

“Before Ilya Kabakov was an international art star, he was the guiding genius of the unofficial Moscow art world in the waning decades of the Soviet Union. This tightly curated but expansive volume of his writings—expertly framed by Matthew Jesse Jackson—finally delivers Kabakov's brilliance and wit to the non-Russian reader. Kabakov the artist is inseparable from Kabakov the storyteller, and his early writings convey the intellectual intensity of his insular late-socialist world. The later ones—increasingly poetic or even incantational—return to familiar themes from the perspective of the émigré, yielding new insights about the ever-colonialist expectations of the Western art world.”

Christina Kaier, Northwestern University

“Art, to Kabakov, is something you risk your life for, because art—when it is true—holds a place for the emergent. In this spirit, Kabakov not at all paradoxically has said, ‘The artist must paint an open book.’ In bringing us this volume, Matthew Jackson has performed a crucial service. Here, the two are partners in discourse. This much shows on every surprising, beautiful page.”

Darby English, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Introduction, by Matthew Jesse Jackson
Culture, “I,” “It,” and Favorsky’s Light (“Rhombus”) (1980)
Nozdrev and Pliushkin (1981)
. . . Everything Is in the Turning of the Pages (1981)
On Emptiness (1982)
The Creator Looks at His Work Twice (1982)
Dust, Dirt, and Garbage (Dust as an Object of Contemplation) (1982)
Discourse on the Perception of the Three Layers, Three Levels, into Which an Ordinary, Anonymous Written Product—Notices, Slips, Menus, Bills, Tickets, etc.—May Be Broken Down (1982)
Epistemological Thirst (1982)
Not Everyone Will Be Taken into the Future (1983)
New Rhombus (1983)
Without Culture (1983)
Park of Culture (1984)
From The 1960s and the 1970s: Notes on Unofficial Life in Moscow (1982–1984)
The Artist-Character (1985)
From An Apologia for Personalism in the Art of the 1960s: An Impassioned Monologue on 23 June 1986 (1986)
Conceptualism in Russia (1986)
Edge, Border, Crack (1986)
Art Has No Unloved Children (1987)
How I Became a Character Myself (1989)
A Story about a “Culturally Relocated” Individual (1994)
From On “Total” Installation (1995)
Text as the Foundation of Visual Expression (1995)
On Risk (1997)
On Cézannism (1997)
The Spirit of Music (1997)
Public Projects, or the Spirit of a Place (2001)
Why Was It Necessary to Use the “Character” Device for the Exhibition Rather Than Signing My Own Name? (2004)
Nikolai Petrovich (Commentary) (2008)
From Catalog (2009)
Translation Credits

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