Extract of interview with Ilya Kabakov in Artkhronika journal, May 2010 (on the subject of Pavel Pepperstein)

Artists from all different generations say ‘Kabakov this, Kabakov that’…….That is to say, people measure their movement by you. The critic Andrei Kovalyov describes this as an Oedipus Complex, you are the universal father of Russian art. This still applies and maybe that is why people are jealous of you?

There were many fathers in the Conceptualist circle. Maybe I should answer that by looking at the flow of time. The contemporary artist is in the most difficult position. He is always the competitor and everyone fights against him. The second stage is the father. You have to hate the father, he interferes in your life, he says one thing but we must do the opposite, he’s the villain, he is the aggressor, he torments us. The best position is that of the Grandfather, who gets preferential treatment, which the first two don’t get, he is always right, there is nothing menacing about him, he only tells the truth, is always positive, he shines a light on us from afar. Some of us were lucky to know the grandfathers, Falk, Favorski…….But the father is the worst thing to be. Among today’s artists the most important are Monastirsky and Pepperstein, it is their destiny to pass through all these stages. I am very happy that Monastirsky occupies such a central position in the Moscow art world today. For a long time there has been absolutely no doubt that Andrei and Pasha Pepperstein are the stars that everyone else uses for navigation.

Did Pepperstein become a star immediately?

To all of us Pasha is the reincarnation of Mozart. He would come to my studio with Vitya (his father, the artist Viktor Pivovarov) and sit next to him on the sofa and you couldn’t get a word out of him. He was just a presence, like a spirit. And when at last his golden pen moved, everyone suddenly saw and heard what a sound it makes. In this way Pasha was always something incredible. He went through a stage of Buddhist like silence and gave off this unbelievable aura of light. He is this incredible mixture, he has this huge range and feeling of improvisation, I just can’t describe his importance for us today.

He has a huge influence on the 1990s generation….

Yes. And that is a good thing as both Pepperstein and Andrei are sublime figures. In today’s culture of mass media we have everything. But we are missing one thing – the sublime. When you cry in the Conservatoire, you are in the presence of the sublime, but when you listen to Rocknroll the sublime is absent, although it may be no worse for you than what you hear in the Conservatoire. Both Pasha and Andrei are bearers of the sublime. This word might sound pompous. One could refer here to Barnett Newman and his circle, where the theme of the sublime was somehow absolutely normal. That is where their panic, mixed with disgust, came from when Warhol and pop-Art appeared and why they refused to exhibit with him.

Works by Pepperstein appear but he himself hides from everyone. And the problem with Monastirsky is that he exists and at the same time somehow he doesn’t. There are no exhibitions, no new works……..

This is what is unusual about the phenomenon of conceptualism. The world of the conceptual is not just the world of the product but a world of the thought-form which can transform into something material or can stay within the bounds of the thought-form. Nevertheless, by intentionally preserving oneself in these forms, the very highest quality appears in its extreme and principled form. It’s like with Cage – either you hear these three and a half minutes of silence, you’ve got hearing, or you think that this a fraud sitting silently at the piano. It is like in the fairytale about the Emperor with no clothes, you can always say whose side you are on: on the side of the clever little boy who points his finger, or on the side of Cage – the great tailor, because after all, this parable isn’t only about a clever boy but also about a great tailor. Conceptualism is the area of the visual dynamic, where there is no division between art and text, between text and conversation, between conversation and a poetic way of spending time. It is a well-developed sphere but in today’s climate of utilitarianism (let me feel the quality before I buy) of course it is not taken into consideration. Andrei Monastirsky is a great artist who is intentionally scornful of this. Pasha is a little bit different. A museum director in Oslo asked us how he could meet this Mozart [Pepperstein]. The basis of his drawings is a non-material impulse, just fantasy, you have got to know what is going on inside, to be able to see what is behind these triangles and landscapes.

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