Acclaimed Russian-born American artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have been working collaboratively for nearly thirty years. Although built with unbridled imagination and optimism, their installation-based works are directly inspired by the hardships, surveillance, and suspicion they endured while living in the Soviet Union. Spanning the years between 1985 and the present day, The Utopian Projects features more than twenty of the Kabakovs’ maquettes and whimsical models. Engaging projects both realized and unrealized, this exhibition includes monuments, allegorical narratives, architectural structures, and commissioned outdoor works.
These elaborate creations are brought to life by the eccentric, imaginary characters that inhabit them, inviting the viewer into a miniature surreal world while simultaneously offering a rare glimpse into the duo’s artistic process. Lights, motors, text, and music enhance the whimsy and theatricality of each miniature environment, which the Kabakovs use to reinforce the metaphorical meaning of the work.
Opening nearly thirty years after the Hirshhorn hosted Ilya Kabakov’s first major US exhibition, The Utopian Projects includes the working studio models of such quintessential artworks as The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment (1985)—which was fully realized and presented at the Hirshhorn in 1990—and The Ship of Tolerance, a sixty-foot wooden sailboat that has been successfully launched all around the world and widely celebrated for its message of tolerance and hope. On May 25, The Ship of Tolerance was fully realized at the Vatican, under the patronage of the Holy See and Vicariate.