Galery by Lev Tabenkin

Living dangerously

From interview Simon Hewitt, historian of Art, for the project «Hunting Game»

Paris may 5 2008


I won't forget the day I first encountered the “Vosmidesyatniki”: 14 November 2007, in London. I was attending their show in the Mayfair gallery, and I was one of the first pas-sengers to arrive at the new Eurostar rail terminal: St. Pancras Station, famed fa its great, gleaming glass roof.

“I have always wanted to follow my way,” says Lev Tabenkin. “I have never thought of myself as a 1980s artist. Nor did my father consider himself as a part of the Shestidesyatniki. His style was absolutely different from other 1960s artists."

Perhaps that was because Ilya Tabenkin spent nearly 10 years in prison for the so-called "crime" of sending paintings to a friend in the Gulag.

Ilya Tabenkin did not encourage his son to become an artist. “He always thought it was too difficult to lead a life of an artist. He never wanted me to follow his example." When Lev tried to show his work to Westerners in the 1980s, he received even less encouragement from the KGB: "If you continue in this way with your anti-Soviet paintings, Comrade, you will definitely have problems."

Tabenkin considers Communism "as a tragic episode that I hope we will soon forget. Russia is not Communistl Russia is Our History, Our People, Our Culture - a great culture, the culture of Mussorgsky and Dostoyevsky."


In the wake of the Sotheby's popular Moscow auction in 1988 where featured both Tabenkins, Lev's work was shown in the USA, Paris and Germany. He toyed with the idea of emigrating to Israel, but "then we became free... after 1990 it was absolutely another life, with new possibilities to travel, and see other museums and artists. He says he has always tried to show, and say something about the true life in Russia, and realized the only way to do this was to live in the country.”