For the next few months, ten floors of Tate Modern will be dedicated to the work of the Russian conceptual artists, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The exhibition includes recreations of three of the couples’ so-called ‘total installations’: immersive environments which include a mixture of painting, drawing, sculpture, theatre and poetry that engulf the viewer in an eerie narrative. One of these installations, The Man Who Flew into Space, first created in 1985, is a shabby room covered in Communist posters and slogans, which celebrate the USSR’s technological achievements. The viewer quickly realises that the room has just been vacated, its former occupant having built himself a makeshift catapult and launched himself into space through the ceiling. The piece inhabits a grey area between affection for the Soviet way of life and biting satire of it, like much of the Kabakovs’ work. However, the natural home for these installations is not, of course, a monumental London museum; but the couple’s private apartment. They are part of a long and rich tradition of ‘apartment art’ created by experimental Soviet artists, a tradition which has often been overlooked but which deserves re-examining.
Mikhail Roshal, Art for Art’s Sake, 1982, Margarita and Victor Tupitsyn Archive.
Under the Soviet Union, there was a strict distinction between ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ forms of art. The State sanctioned that all artists must conform to the style of ‘Socialist Realism’, which was supposed to be ‘proletarian’, ‘typical’, ‘realistic’ and ‘partisan’. Not all artists conformed. For obvious reasons, ‘unofficial’ artists were not allowed to exhibit in museums and galleries. Instead, they displayed their art in the privacy of their own homes. This is how the genre of ‘apartment art’ was born. The genesis of ‘apartment art’ was, therefore, due to a mixture of political defiance and logistic necessity. From the 1930s onwards, exhibitions in domestic spaces took place across the Soviet bloc and in the 1960s and 70s, they became a p