Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Artist is an Illegitimate Cosmonaut

 by Robert Boyd

Today I reviewed Ilya Kabakov: The Man Who Flew to Space from his Apartment, a short book by Russian art critic Boris Groys. It's a short book--only 60 pages (many of which are full-page illustrations). It's basically an essay on a single piece of art, The Man Who Flew into Space from his Apartment. Ilya Kabakov is one of my favorite artists. He was an "official artist" in the Soviet Union, which  means he was a member of the Artists' Union and did work for the state--in his case, for state publishing houses, because he was a children's book illustrator. But he had other things he wanted to express, and developed a double art practice--one official, and one unofficial. But even in his unofficial art, he used the skills he had gained as a book illustrator. This narrative underpinning to his otherwise highly conceptual art is something that Groys reiterates in his book, along with the idea expressed in the title of this post, which is a quote from Groys' text (Kabakov the unofficial artist was a little like a fictional character trying to become a cosmonaut in his own apartment) and the idea of "Cosmism," a Russian philosophical movement with its roots in the 19th century. "Cosmism" is a topic that fascinate Groys--he published a book about it in 2018, and it is the subject of an interesting lecture he gave that can be found on YouTube.

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