Artists Spill: Ron Lambert on Ilya Kabakov’s The Life of Flies



The Life of Flies installation view, Ilya Kabakov
  • 'The Life of Flies' installation view, Ilya Kabakov

[Editor's note: Artists Spill is a series about artists' first favorite art. This is Watkins professor, sculptor, curator, and former CL artist of the month Ron Lambert's contribution.]

I don’t know about the first painting that influenced my direction as an artist. I do distinctly remember when I got to see Ilya Kabakov’s The Life of Flies installation. I was an undergrad at UConn concentrating in sculpture, but not sure what my work was at that point. My friends and I went to New York pretty often back then. I saw a lot of work, but I didn’t have any idea how I could fit in with the artistic dialogues I was seeing.

It was a rainy visit in 1997 (I remember that because the galleries don’t let you linger too long, so I was pretty wet) that I walked into Barbara Gladstone Gallery to see Kabakov’s installation. I was initially totally confused. After going room to room, the clues started to make sense. The last room was set up like a boardroom or a politician’s office with a long table surrounded by massive amounts of framed text. That room brought all the other rooms into focus. Through the experience I felt like I understood the frustration of having a small number of people in power being able to control information. This was something Kabakov lived with in the USSR, but also seems reflective of our government. It was amazing how Kabakov made me feel like he was holding my hand, pulling me through the installation. I guess that piece helped me realize why I wanted to make sculpture. I want people to have a physical experience with my work; I want people to sift through the information I am giving them and feel a connection to me through the physicality of the piece.

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