Follow the journey of the outstanding Georgian and European artist

David Kakabadze, David Kakabadze, circa 1925, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace
A multi-talented visual artist 
One of the most significant figures of Georgian art wore many hats: avant-garde painter, graphic artist, film director, stage designer, experimenter, art researcher, theorist… This exhibit focuses on his artistic legacy: Kakabadze's works are notable for combining innovative interpretation of European ‘Leftist’ art with Georgian national traditions, on which he was an expert.
Early years 
Born into a peasant family in the village Kukhi (Imereti, Georgia) on August 20, 1889, David was still a school-pupil when the first exhibition of his drawings took place at his gymnasium. In 1914, Kakabadze was sponsored by local philanthropists and studied natural sciences at St. Petersburg University. At the same time, he attended painting classes at the studio of Dmitroyev-Kavkazsky and did a research in old Georgian arts. In 1914, four artists – Kakabadze, Philonov, Kirillov and Lason-Spirova established a society: ‘Intimate Studio of Painters and Illustrators’.
In the studio of Lev Dmitriev-Kavkazskiy, David Kakabadze, circa 1915, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

The friends published the manifesto Made Pictures (Сделанные картины), which expressed the philosophy behind Kakabadze’s work – that the picture has to be created, completed and released from everything unintentional.

David Kakabadze, David Kakabadze, circa 1925, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

Natural sciences in the painter's life. After graduating from the university, in 1916, Kakabadze returned to Georgia. He taught physics and mathematics in a Tbilisi school.
On November 22, 1917, the physics and mathematics examination committee qualified David Kakabadze for a second-degree diploma in biology from the University of Petrograd (today, Saint Petersburg). Besides the subjects related to his major, he passed examinations in general physics, crystallography, chemistry, fundamentals of higher mathematics, and many other fields.

David Kakabadze with his friends, David Kakabadze, 1925, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace
Paris, the center of the arts
On March 23, 1914, David wrote to his father from St. Petersburg: "You write that you have heard people say that one learns drawing in Italy. But that was long ago. Today, Paris is the center of the arts.” David Kakabadze’s dream was destined to come true. On July 20-22 1919 the Council of the ‘Association of Georgian Artists’ organized a competition for young artists to study abroad. David won and in the same year departed for France.
Collage Kakabadze, David Kakabadze, 1929, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

David actively partook in the 'Société des Artistes Indépendants' and other joint exhibitions in France.
During his stay in Paris, he was attracted by ‘Subject-less painting’ and worked on problems of pictorial technique, occasionally using metal, mirror glass, stained glass and other such materials in place of paints.
He soon went over to an even more ‘Leftist’ position, and paid generous tribute to cubism.

Abstraction Based on Flower Forms, I, David Kakabadze, 1921, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

By the mid 1920s though, he had rejected his cubist-influenced style in favor of more abstract sculpture and painting.

Abstraction Based on Sails, David Kakabadze, 1921, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

The critics were particularly impressed with the way the artist had electrified some of the compositions. So as times connected him to the Futurists and the usage of ready-made objects and electric light suggests an affinity with the Dadaists. All these tendencies were reworked and transformed into an obvious individual style that was not similar with any associations and could not be attributed to any particular movement in art.

Abstraction Based on Flower Forms, I, David Kakabadze, 1921, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

All David’s famous series belong to the Parisian period where he stayed until 1927: Bretagne (1921), the graphic and oil cubist series Paris (1920), Sailing Boats (1921), Abstract Forms of Blooming Gardens (1921), and collages with lenses (1924).

Photograph for the 'Glassless Stereo Cinematography', David Kakabadze, circa 1922, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

Artist and inventor. The artist lectured on various aspects of visual arts and developed his interest in kinetic form. He was an outstanding representative of the technical vision.

In 1923, he became one of the pioneers of three-dimensional cinema. Working on the invention was a whole separate chapter in the painter's biography.

Photograph for the 'Glassless Stereo Cinematography', David Kakabadze, circa 1922, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

Towards the end of 1925, however, David was forced to give up his work on the experimental stereo film camera and projector; he postponed the project indefinitely.

Composition, David Kakabadze, 1925, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace
Success after failure
Even earlier, in 1924, David Kakabadze had started to use mirrors, lenses and other optical devices, initially intended for his invention, in constructive and decorative collages. The artist used the already well-known method of combining heterogeneous readymade materials in one composition, but he introduced innovations as well, creating an original and unique art of collage. That fact was immediately acknowledged by the critics and an extraordinary series of collages made him famous.
"Z" (Speared Fish), David Kakabadze, 1925, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

Worldwide recognition. In 1926, the founders of ‘Société Anonyme’ - Catherine Drier, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, with collaboration of Wassily Kandinsky and others arranged a big international exhibition of modern art at the Brooklyn Museum. For this reason, ‘Société Anonyme’ (also known as an ‘Experimental Museum’) purchased works of Davit Kakabadze, including the sculpture Z.
Katherine Dreier came to Europe specifically in order to purchase samples of the latest art and acquired the sculpture directly from the show.

"Z" (Speared Fish), David Kakabadze, 1925, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

Interestingly enough, Z, which is also known as Speared Fish, was reproduced on the front pages of almost all publications dedicated to the Société Anonyme Art Collection.
In 1953, the sculpture, along with the rest of Katherine Dreier 's collection, was donated to the Yale University Art Gallery in accordance with her will.

David Kakabadze, Unknown, 1928, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace
Pivotal 1927
The Brooklyn Museum exhibition opened on 19 November, 1926 and closed on 1 January, 1927. In that same year, Kakabadze returned to the annexed and Soviet-dominated Georgia where the government had strictly outlawed abstract art. At that time Joan Miró and Piet Mondrian –already famous in Europe– made their American debut through this exhibition. That was the period of their internationalization as artists. As for the 37-year-old Davit Kakabadze, the international exhibition turned out to be his last one. 
Cover of David Kakabadze's book 'Art and Space', David Kakabadze, 1926, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

The artist, whose vision and way of thinking was thoroughly modern and who dedicated dozens of articles, books and monographs to the modern art, was allowed to create only realistic works in his homeland.

Sketch for the play 'Chief of the Station', David Kakabadze, 1947, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace
Oblivion
Returning to Georgia caused David's isolation and separation from the Western artistic world. He gradually fell into oblivion... In 1950, in the catalogue of a collection published by Yale University’s Catherine Drier discussed him as a posthumous phenomenon, though Kakabadze outlived this remark by two years afterword, no one knew about him by that time already.
Sketch for the play 'Chief of the Station', David Kakabadze, 1947, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

He was offered a teaching job at the Academy of Arts in Tbilisi, where he worked as a professor, Dean of the painting department and Vice-rector from 1929 till 1948. David was the author and designer of about ten films and thirty theatrical and opera performances. In 1930, he made a documentary film that was based on his own script: Monuments of Material Culture of Georgia.

Sketch for the play 'Chief of the Station', David Kakabadze, 1947, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

However, the works of the Parisian period, as well as the whole process and way of Kakabadze’s creative search, proved unacceptable for the young republic. David Kakabadze took into consideration the general opinion of critics in Georgia and abandoned the path he had been pursuing during the eight years of his life in Paris.
He never returned to abstract art.

Sketch for unrealised opera 'Amirani', David Kakabadze, 1927, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

Despite Soviet regulations, David still managed to think out of the box. His works and sketches, created either for opera or theatre, were apparently different from that of Social Realism.

Sketch for unrealised opera 'Amirani', David Kakabadze, 1927, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

He applied paints onto wet paper which look as if they have preserved their moisture even up to now. Together with the whiteness of the paper, it is this ‘humidity’ that creates the sensation of depth and space- he wrote.

Sketch for unknown play 'Hoppla, wir leben!', David Kakabadze, 1929, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace
David Kakabadze, David Kakabadze, circa 1925, From the collection of: Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

Like many of his contemporary Soviet artists, David Kakabadze had a dramatic life caused first and foremost by the restrictions the Soviet regime imposed on the freedom of expression of artists. 
He was an artist and scientist who never lost his dignity, nor was he ever subservient towards those in power.
That was why he turned out to be unacceptable for the Soviet world.
Along with unbearable oppression, the order, issued in 1948, turned out to be fatal for the painter. The Tbilisi Academy of Art announced David that he ‘could not instruct students according to the socialist realism method’. He was dismissed from his position from the 1948-49 academic year with the ‘formalist’ brand of shame.


Kakabadze died on May 10, 1952.

Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace
Credits: Story

Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Cinema and Choreography - Art Palace

George Kalandia
Mary Kharaishvili
Irakli Zambakhidze
Irina Moistsrapishvili

The narrative was created based on Ketevan Kintsurashvili's book "David Kakabadze - a 20th Century Classic"

Special thanks to the Yale University Art Gallery, The Museu Colecção Berardo and Ketevan Kintsurashvili

Find out more about the artist in our exhibit David Kakabadze: experiments with art and technology.

2018

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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