Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Ship of Tolerance, Zug, 2016

On view September 7, 2017, through April 29, 2018

Acclaimed Russian-born American artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have been working collaboratively for more than 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 featured more than twenty of the Kabakovs’ maquettes and whimsical models, which were activated at viewers’ approach. Engaging projects both realized and unrealized, this exhibition included 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 included the working studio models of quintessential artworks such 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 is 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.

Curated by Stéphane Aquin, Chief Curator