“How to Meet an Angel” is a 1-minute, looped animation by Russian-born, North Fork-based artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Inspired by their vision of human encounters with angels, the film will be projected onto the south façade of the Parrish Art Museum on Saturday, September 12, from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. (rain date Sunday, September 13). This unique drive-by experience is visible from Montauk Highway with limited access for guests to park and watch the projections from the Parrish grounds.
“I am delighted to bring the Kabakov’s vision of hope to the Parrish in a time when we all need grace,” said Corinne Erni, the museum’s senior curator of ArtsReach and special projects. “We are grateful that we were able to reopen our doors this summer for people to come together and experience art as a beacon of hope, which makes our Museum the perfect setting for the Kabakovs’ animation.”
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov collaborate on environments that fuse elements of the everyday with those of the conceptual. While their work is deeply rooted in the Soviet social and cultural context, whence they came of age, their work carries a universal significance. The animation of “How to Meet an Angel” came about two years ago, when the Kabakovs were invited by the Tchoban Foundation, Museum for Architectural Drawing, Berlin, to present an exhibition of their architectural projects, drawings, and models. They created the animation from the original drawings of the sculpture, and it was projected on the façade of the museum.
How to Meet an Angel originated as the artists’ utopian vision. “An encounter with your angel in real life appears to be virtually impossible. But this is far from the truth,” said Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. “All that is necessary is to recall that this encounter can take place in extreme circumstances, and, especially at critical moments in a person’s life. It is within our powers to create the situation for such an encounter.”
The initial concept was to erect a 3,600-foot high ladder that shoots up vertically into a large, empty space, ideally in a distant, rural place. According to the Kabakovs, “Today’s materials permit the creation of such a structure with the necessary durability and stability. A person who has resolved to ascend to the top of the ladder should be prepared to spend more than two days to do so. However, once he is near the top, he finds himself high above the clouds, alone within conditions of wind and inclement weather; that crisis moment when, upon the request for urgent help, the appearance of an angel will turn out to be inevitable.”
This vision was first realized in 2003 when their 59-foot sculpture — a wood and fiberglass multi-pronged ladder with a figure hovering at the top — became a permanent installation in a public park in Germany. In 2009, the Kabakovs were asked to build another permanent sculpture at Mentrum, a psychiatric facility in Amsterdam. An attempt to cancel the project amid fears that it would provoke suicidal thoughts was thwarted when Mentrum patients voted in favor it as a sign of hope and trust in a positive future. The Kabakovs received gifts from the patients: songs, drawings, carpets, images of angels saving people, and letters about how the project instilled hope to enjoy life, and faith that in critical moments they could count on the angel to save them.
Similar sculptures were installed in 2016 at the Museum of Modern Art in Linz, Austria, inviting visitors to play the role of the angel, and in 2019-2020 at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art’s Gorky Park, Moscow. The works consisted of a metal ladder with a male figure (loaned from Austria), and the angel, made of light plastic in Austria. A drone inside the angel allowed it to circle the sculpture — as though the angel was trying to save the man on the ladder.
The Kabakovs’ work has been shown in venues including: Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Documenta IX, the Whitney Biennial, 1997, and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg among others. In 1993 they represented Russia at the 45th Venice Biennale with their installation The Red Pavilion. They completed important public commissions throughout Europe, and received numerous honors and awards, including the Oscar Kokoschka Preis, Vienna, in 2002; The Praemium Imperiale, Japan, The Japan Art Association, in 2008; and the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Ministry of Culture, in 2014. In 2014, the documentary film Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here premiered in New York City.
The Parrish Art Museum is at 279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill. For more information visit parrishart.org.