Ilya Kabakov, born the 30th of September 1933, is a Russian-American artist of Jewish origin, born in Dnipropetrovsk in what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. From the 1950s to the late 1980s, he worked in Moscow. Since the 90s, he has lived and worked on Long Island, New York with his wife and collaborator Emilia Kabakov.
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov represented Russia at the Venice Biennale in 1993 and the Whitney Biennial in 1997. Ilya Kabakov is the first Russian-born living artist who has exhibited at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Kabakov is represented with works at, for instance, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Musée d'Art Contemporain Georges Pompidou, Paris, and the National Museum in Oslo, which owns the central work Garbage Man (1988-95).
After six decades as an active artist, first in the former Soviet Union and, secondly, on Long Island in the US, Ilya Kabakov has made his mark as a central conceptual artist with his installations and paintings. Through the art, Kabakov observes and reflects upon the human reality, often based on his memories of the old Soviet Union, or other utopian and man-made projects. A common feature of these political or economic declining systems is a strong human vision, capability and conviction. Like the Greek king, Sisyphus, whom for his misdeeds, as well as his personal convictions, was sentenced to daily rolling the same rock up a hill for all eternity.
While the Greek myth gives a lesson and a morality, and Kabakov's work therefore could allude to human dissatisfaction and the monotony of everyday life, the artist’s nod to the story is perceived more as a reflection of the human urge to explore, to create, to conquer, and to reach the top. Here, Sisyphus is not alone, but aided by others through unity and teamwork. Thus, the artist emphasizes the importance of the collective and the humane, rather than the individual, as one strives to keep on top of life mountain.