15 October 2020
Who Hammered this Nail?, installation, signed twice, inscribed in Cyrillic "avtorskaia kopiia kartiny 1970 goda", titled and dated 2000 twice on the reverse.
Oil, pencil and metal nail on board, 56 by 96 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, Europe.
Exhibited: Artists of the Russian Underground, MacDougall's, London, October 2007.
Literature: For other versions, see R. Petzinger, E. Kabakov (eds), Ilya Kabakov. Paintings. 1957–2008. Catalogue Raisonné, Bielefeld, Kerber; Wiesbaden, Museum Wiesbaden, 2008, vol. 1, p. 77, No. 33, illustrated and listed; vol. 2, p. 115, No. 398, illustrated and listed.
The work Who Hammered This Nail? belongs to a series of installations with a nail begun in 1969 by Ilya Kabakov, one of the most acclaimed Russian contemporary artists. The composition has gained an iconic status in Kabakov's œuvre and can be considered his calling card. One of the versions of the composition is in the collection of the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
The installation Who Hammered This Nail? is part of the large-scale alb (album) cycle dating from the 1970s. The cycle consists of a trail of sheets of paper, cardboard and plywood, extending over decades and bearing short, unsophisticated dialogues, centred around life in Soviet communal flats. The present work is a superb example of the bold introduction of a mini-dialogue into an artwork. The unassuming phrases, inserted in the corners and written in a slender calligraphic handwriting, make the viewer hear the voices of invisible characters — the inhabitants of one of the communal flats, now close to extinction. Their conversation is about nothing, since nothing unites the invisible Inna Borisovna and Boris Ilyich, who speak these phrases, other than the harsh need to co-exist in a tiny space.
White colour plays a special role in the work. The colour white, for Kabakov, is, on the one hand, nothingness or emptiness, from which voices emerge, and, on the other hand, an all-purifying ethereal substance, which ennobles the squalor of communal existence. A mundane object, in this case a nail, contrasts with the metaphysically significant white field around it, symbolising the contradiction in Kabakov himself — a former inhabitant of a Soviet communal flat and, at the same time, a world-famous artist.
Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.