Ilya & Emilia Kabakov

The Kabakovs and the Avant-Gardes

Ilya & Emilia Kabakov. The Kabakovs and the Avant-Gardes continues the path the Spazio -1 has set for itself, and comes right after the exhibition dedicated to Italian artist Giulio Paolini (September 2015) and the themed exhibition Sulla Croce (March 2016). This new project stems from a personal relationship that grew many years ago between the collectors Giancarlo and Danna Olgiati and the two artists, for whom three significant works were already represented in Spazio -1 in 2012. As always, this new exhibition will be accompanied by a new installation of the Collezione Olgiati including works never before seen.

A project by Ilya & Emilia Kabakov

The exhibition relates seven works by the two great Russian artists with 26 paintings and drawings of the early 20th century historical avant-gardes in the Collection: from Russian Cubo-Futurism to Suprematism and Constructivism, by way of Italian Futurism and European Abstraction, Spazio -1 offers a unique intellectual conversation. Visitors will be able to view five large-scale paintings, a sculpture, and an installation by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, alongside some of the greatest names of the historical avant-gardes, including Russian artists Malevic, Kandinsky, and Rodchenko, Italian Futurist artists Balla, Boccioni, and Severini, and European Abstract artists Léger and Schwitters.
The scenography, conceived specially by Ilya Kabakov for MASI Lugano, is a remarkable tribute to art history by the artist, with which he dialogues relentlessly, and in particular to the Collezione Olgiati, with which he shares specific choices and comprehensive visions. The Kabakovs’ works will be displayed all around the walls of Spazio -1, while the paintings of the historical avantgardes will be mounted on temporary walls placed diagonally in the central area of the exhibition space; these walls will form a grid occupied at the centre by a cross-like structure that is clearly an homage to Suprematism. Paintings that represent European Abstract Art’s finest output are thus englobed in an installation that is the work of one of the most famous names in contemporary art.
Beyond any chronological or genre-based division, the exhibition creates a temporal short circuit, an important synthesis that tells of art and history, of the great social and cultural systems of the past century, and of the successive fragmentation of our complex present.

The Kabakovs and the Avant-Gardes catalogue includes a critical essay by Robert Storr, curator of the New York MoMA from 1990 to 2000, and curator of the Venice Biennale in 2007, as well as a text by the Italian art critic Ada Masoero, an interview of the Olgiatis, and colour reproductions of the entire works on display.

Featured Artists
Giacomo Balla / Umberto Boccioni / Fortunato Depero / Alexandra Exter / Natalija Gončarova / Vassilij Kandinskij / Michail Larionov / Fernand Léger / Kazimir Malevič / Filippo Tommaso Marinetti / Michail Matjusin / Michail Menkov / Ljubov Popova / Enrico Prampolini / Aleksandr Rodčenko / Olga Rozanova / Luigi Russolo / Kurt Schwitters / Gino Severini / Mario Sironi / Ardengo Soffici / Varvara Stepanova

  • Collezione Giancarlo e Danna Olgiati

  • Riva Caccia 1, 6900 Lugano


Ilya Kabakov was born in Dnepropetrovsk, USSR, in 1933. He studied in Leningrad and, from 1945, in Moscow, where he attended the Art Institute and the VA Surikov Art Academy. In the 1950s and 1960s he worked as an artist and illustrator, dedicating himself to painting and developing the first of the theories that would fuel Muscovite Conceptualism. In 1987, he fled the Soviet Union and settled in Graz, Austria, where he began a new phase in his career concerning multiple international projects based on the idea of “total installation.” In 1988, he began working with the artist Emilia Lekach, who became his wife in 1992. Born in Dnepropetrovsk in 1945, Emilia attended the Music College in Irkutst as well as studying Spanish language and literature at Moscow University. She immigrated to Israel in 1973, and moved to New York in 1975, where she worked as a curator and art dealer. The two artists began working together in New York in the mid-1990s, continuing with and renewing the artistic research that Ilya had begun in the previous years. Kabakov’s works are filled with personal experiences and political myths: drawings, paintings, performances, and installations merge narratives and illustrations on a single metalinguistic level. Ilya’s installations, as well as the ones he made later with Emilia’s collaboration, testify to the birth of the Soviet regime and its decadence, and they express the profound contradictions within Soviet society. The Kabakovs regularly show their works in the most prestigious museums and galleries around the world. In October 2017, Tate Modern in London hosted a major retrospective of their work. Kabakov has received numerous awards and acknowledgements, and is currently the most famous Russian artist; he is also listed among the ten most important artists in the world according to the prestigious magazine, ArtNews. Thanks to his unsurpassable ability to interpret the Soviet conscience, he was the first Russian artist in the second half of the 20th century to achieve the role of art-star in the art system. The Kabakovs live in Long Island, New York.