The Garbage Man (The Man who Never Threw Anything Away)
- Artist: Ilya Kabakov
- Creation date: 1988–1995
- Object type: Installation
The West first encountered Ilya Kabakov when his “Ten Characters” series was shown in New York in 1988. Along with the album series of the same name, these ten installations represent in many ways the crux of Kabakov’s art. He later reworked some of these pieces, including The Garbage Man (The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away), which found a permanent home at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1995.
The installation recreates the Garbage Man’s room in the so-called kommunalkas, or “communal flats”, which were a uniquely Soviet housing solution. Such kommunalkas began cropping up after the Russian Revolution in 1917, when all manner of residential buildings were converted into collective living quarters where people were jumbled together. The curious environment and resulting lifestyle shaped Kabakov’s formative years as well, and represents a key theme in his art. The Garbage Man could have lived in such a quasi-surrealist community. All manner of junk and debris, whether items he has used himself or rubbish he has found, occupy almost the entire living space. The Garbage Man has painstakingly catalogued, ordered, and put these items in their allotted place, while furniture, clothes, and household articles have merely been tossed together in large heaps along the walls.
The installation expresses the heroism of everyday life, where the misery of lower-middleclass existence is contrasted with the hollow pathos of communist ideals. The artist makes himself the advocate of the common man, the one whose voice is never heard and whose deeds are ignored by the writers of history. As is the case with all of Kabakov’s works, however, it is the universally human dimension that gives The Garbage Man its unique character and elevates it above time and place.