Ilya Kabakov is born in Dnjepropetrowsk, Ukraine, in 1933. In 1943 he starts his studies at the Art School of the Leningrad Art Academy in Samarkand, Usbekistan. After moving to Moscow in 1945, he becomes a student at the Moscow Art School. He continues his studies at the Faculty of Graphics at the Surikov Institute from 1951 — 57. Like his colleague Erik Bulatov, Kabakov continues his free-lance work – he also illustrates children’s books – which he had started in 1955. In 1956 first portfolios with drawings emerge, the so-called »picture dictionaries« that are collected as albums in 1970 — 78 (The Flying Komarow, 1972 — 75; The Mathematical Gorsky, 1972 — 75). Together with the group of the Beljutins studio, Kabokov’s works are shown for the first time in Moscow. In 1963 he becomes a member of the Soviet Artists Association. At that time Kabekov has already illustrated 100 books.
In 1965 Kabakov starts to focus on techniques of parody and defamiliarization – this is also the year of his first visit to a Western country and his first exhibition in Italy. His interest in a pedagogical arrangement of text and picture, deriving from his time as an illustrator of books, is turned into an instrument of analysis of Russian visual propaganda. In his SHEK-panels – they are painted between 1978 and 1982 and make use of the term SHEK which designates the office of housing administration – he employs the pictorial rhetoric of socialist realism for a parody on ubiquitous prohibition and notice signs (Carrying Out the Trashcan, 1980;Sunday Evening, 1980). The panels are soon integrated into larger Installations that turn into Kabakov’s major, theoretically grounded medium.
His idea for an »Expoart« emerges at the end of the 1970s as an answer to the impediments he is confronted with at exhibitions in the USSR. As a precursor to his later Installations he stages an Environment in 1982 — 83, an imaginary exhibit for the Pushkin Museum that envisions itself as a place of collection of Russian artefacts. Kabakov then installs rooms that are arranged as »complete universe«: motifs and themes mostly taken from everyday Soviet life become the objects of detailed reflection (He Who Flew into the Cosmos, 1985). Kabakov is now recognized as an internationally renowned artist. He emigrates in 1987 and a year later participates in the Venice Biennale. The Installations he creates in the following years provide insights into and, within the context of the museum, memories of Soviet everyday lives largely unknown in the Western world (Mother and Son, 1990; The Red Wagon, 1990/91; In the Communal Kitchen, 1991; The Red Pavilion, 1993).
In 1992 Kabakov creates the setting and costumes for Alfred Schnittke’s opera »La vie avec un idiot,« performed in Amsterdam and directed by Mstislav Rostropovitch. From 1992 to 1993 he teaches at the Kunstakademie Frankfurt.
Ilya Kabakov lives and works in New York.
Ilya Kabakov, Installationen 1983 — 2000: Werkverzeichnis, 2 Bde. hg. von Toni Stooss, Düsseldorf 2003
Ilya Kabakov, Universalsystem zur Darstellung von allem / Ilya Kabakov. A Universal System for Depicting Everything: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Göppingen hg. v. Werner Meyer, Düsseldorf 2002
Groys, Boris; Ross, David A.; Blazwick, Iwona: Ilya Kabakov, London 1998
Wallach, Amei: Ilya Kabakov, The Man who Never Threw Anything Away, New York 1996