Collections and research

Absolute Installation

Ilya Kabakov

In the museum’s permanent installation "The Garbage Man (The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away)" from 1983–95, the viewer is surrounded by an architectonic construction of light, total silence, color and objects.

© Ilya Kabakov, The Garbage Man (The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away), 1988–1995, installation

The viewer is inside something that resembles a stateowned communal apartment, a "kommunalka," from the former Soviet Union. Here one gets a sense of what the atmosphere and the quality of life was like in this milieu. Staged communal apartments recur often in Kabakov’s work, perhaps because they were a prevalent feature in his childhood.

The installation consists of three rooms that are reminiscent of a loft, where rubbish has been accumulating over many years. Gradually as one moves further into the installation, one notices that all of the trash is carefully catalogued and archived. Small insignificant objects are glued onto charts or catalogued in cupboards with precise references to date and an “event”. The objects are a mix of things the artist took with him from the old communist state and things he has found since he moved to the West.

The things’ generic charm comes across as empty and uninteresting for the majority, yet by presenting these things Kabakov is staging our memories, and lack thereof. Like a melancholic he attempts to hold tight to the past and invoke reminiscences from a life lived. In this way he imbues these objects with value.

The time-consuming, tedious and repetitive work attests to reflecting on human consumption. Why is it that some things are thrown away while others are preserved and cared for as treasures? Kabakov ponders the narrow boundary between what is considered valuable and that which is discarded. The objects in this installation, which were previously considered junk, have now become treasures on display in museums behind protective glass. Ilya Kabakov was born in 1933 in Ukraine. He lives and works in New York.

Ahnikee Østreng