Questionnaire: Ilya & Emilia Kabakov

Q: What do you like the look of? A: Water, always, in any weather. Calm, stormy, in the morning, at sunset, even at night.


Roni Horn, Untitled from the series 'Still Water (The River Thames, For Example)', 1999, lithograph on paper, 77 x 105 cm. Courtesy: American Acquisitions Committee 2005 © Tate, London 2017

Roni Horn, Untitled from the series 'Still Water (The River Thames, For Example)', 1999, lithograph on paper, 77 x 105 cm. Courtesy: American Acquisitions Committee 2005 © Tate, London 2017

What images keep you company in the space where you work?
EMILIA KABAKOV: We mainly are surrounded by paintings that are works-in-progress. But we do have one picture: Talisman by the Ethiopian artist Gedewon. He made it for me 20 years ago and it is absolutely beautiful and magical. I cannot live without this work and I do feel protected by it.

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?
It wasn’t a particular artwork so much as the atmosphere of the museum. The sacred feeling of a temple you felt the moment you entered. It stays with you forever.

If you could live with only one piece of art what would it be?
Why do we have to choose?

What is your favourite title of an artwork?
This is a really strange question but that said, How to Meet an Angel (2003), one of our own works, is the best.

What do you wish you knew?
Everything that’s possible or impossible to know.

What should change?
Too many things to mention, especially people’s ability to be compassionate towards other human beings, being more tolerant to each other and more protective of children, mothers and older people.

What should stay the same?

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?
Being a musician: I think this goes for both of us. Ilya wants to play violin and I still dream of being a pianist.

What music are you listening to?
Classical, romantic, country and the music I can hear even when it’s not playing: the music of the wind and water and the music of silence.

What are you reading?
Ilya reads Russian history, classical literature, poetry and biographies. I read poetry, romance and historical novels, detective stories, art articles and art history.

What do you like the look of?
Water, always, in any weather. Calm, stormy, in the morning, at sunset, even at night.

What is art for?
Art, music and literature are the things that make – and keep – us human.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov live in Long Island, USA. Their solo exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, USA, runs until 4 March 2018. Their retrospective at Tate Modern, London, UK, runs from 18 October until 28 January; it will then travel to the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia, and the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia. Their concurrent solo shows at Thaddeus Ropac Gallery in London and Paris, France, will open this month. 

Issue 190

First published in Issue 190

October 2017

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