Major installation by internationally celebrated Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, opens at Ambika P3

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Major installation by internationally celebrated Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, opens at Ambika P3
The Happiest Man was first created in 2000 at the Jeu de Paume in Paris and forms part of a series of ‘total installations’ - all-encompassing environments, in which viewers find themselves completely absorbed by the atmosphere of the work. Photo: David Freeman.

LONDON.- Sprovieri Gallery and Ambika P3 present a major installation by internationally celebrated Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, influential pioneers of installation art. Staged by the artists in the monumental subterranean space of Ambika P3, The Happiest Man explores the fragile boundaries between reality and imagination, fact and fiction, life and art.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have collaborated over many years to make extraordinary installations – whole environments that fuse elements of the everyday with those of the imagination. With a light touch, they combine references to history, art, literature and philosophy, and often leave the spectator poised between utopia and disenchantment, nostalgia and marvel.

In The Happiest Man, the audience enters a large constructed cinema, with classic cinema chairs where clips are projected featuring rare Russian colour films of rural idyll from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s – scenes of happy people running, dancing and singing. Unexpectedly, within the cinema space, there is also a room, perfect in every detail, where in the mind of the artists lives ‘the happiest man’ who continually watches the projected films on the screen though his window. The spectator can choose to sit in the main cinema, or enter the room and become ‘The Happiest Man’ -- immersed in the illusion, magic and distraction of the scenes that more than fill the domestic environment.

The work is a poignant yet ironic metaphor of the search for a way to flee from reality; happiness is drawn from fictional films made in some of Russia’s darkest years. The ‘Happiest Man’ has found a permanent escape from reality – watching beautiful images - but the utopia of this continuous escape also illuminates the disenchantment of daily life.

While the Kabakovs’ work is deeply rooted in the Soviet social and cultural context in which they came of age, it still attains a universal significance. Highly influential, the Kabukovs’ have created large-scale projects and ambitious installations throughout the world including the Venice Biennial (1993, 1995, 2003, 2007), the São Paulo Biennial (2010) and the Singapore Biennial (2008). They were the first living artists to show at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg and also presented the first exhibition at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow.

Ilya Kabakov was born in Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union, in 1933. He studied at the VA Surikov Art Academy in Moscow, and began his career as a children's book illustrator during the 1950's. He was initially part of a group of Conceptual artists in Moscow who worked outside the official Soviet art system. In 1985 he received his first solo show exhibition in Paris, and he moved to the West two years later. In 1988 Kabakov began working with his future wife Emilia (they were to be married in 1992). From this point onwards, all their work was collaborative, in different proportions according to the specific project involved. Emilia Kabakov (nee Kanevsky) was born in Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union, in 1945. She immigrated to Israel in 1973, and moved to New York in 1975, where she worked as a curator and art dealer. Since 1988 Ilya and Emilia have collaborated on scores of installations and public projects.

Their work has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Documenta IX, at the Whitney Biennial in 1997 among others. In 1993 they represented Russia at the 45th Venice Biennale with their installation The Red Pavilion. The Kabakovs live and work in Long Island.

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