Painter, graphic artist, creator of 'object-installations'
Yankilevsky is the son of a commercial artist, Boris Yankilevsky. From 1950 to 1956 he studied at Moscow Secondary Art School, then from 1957 to 1962 at Moscow Polygraphic Institute, where he received his first lessons in modern art from Eli Beliutin. From the early 1960s, he became part of the circle of Non-conformist artists. He very quickly found the ideal form of painting for him, that of the triptych, which he has worked in for many years. His sphere of interest is the fundamental principles of life: the origins of man and woman and the space in which they come together. He is also an artist of harsh irony: 'Mutants', a cycle of drawings, pastels and etchings, is a rare example of sharp social reflections. From 1962, Yankilevsky worked extensively as an illustrator and designer for various Moscow publishers. However, all his attempts to show his programmatic compositions in public ended in failure. His first solo exhibition, at the USSR Academy of Sciences Institute of Biophysics in 1965, was closed down immediately after the preview. In the same year, he was refused admission to the Union of Artists. Nikita Khrushchev’s dramatic attack on artists at the exhibition held at the Moscow Manezh in autumn 1962 included Yankilevsky, as he was one of the participants, and he was forced use an alias for some time to continue working for the publishers. Abroad, however, none of the countless exhibitions of Russian unofficial art failed to include him. Works for these exhibitions were either brought there illegally, or came from the collections of diplomats and journalists accredited in Moscow.
In 1972, Yankilevsky created his renowned, complex, spatial object, Door. The object looks like a real door in a communal apartment, with all the bells, post boxes and names of the residents. If you open the doors, behind them is the three-dimensional figure of a man in an overcoat and fur hat. This figure, too, can be ‘opened’, or moved aside, to reveal a transcendental, abstractly metaphysical, shining space. The combining of the sharply concrete, often grotesque, with the metaphysical is one of the main features of the artist’s work. In 1975, after the destruction of the notorious Bulldozer exhibition, Yankilevsky took part in the first ‘uncensored’ exhibition of unofficial artists to be permitted by the authorities – in the Beekeeping pavilion of the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements in Moscow. In 1978, at a joint exhibition with Eduard Steinberg at the Moscow City Committee of Graphic Artists, several of his triptychs and the pentaptych Nuclear Power Plant were shown.
From 1990 he lived in New York, then in 1992 he moved to Paris where he has continued to work on his constant themes. One of his most significant projects at the turn of the century was his installation People in Boxes, which gives a clear sense of his deep disappointment with the modern world.
Yankilevsky has had exhibitions in various countries. In Russia in 1995–1996, there was a large exhibition of his works at the Tretyakov gallery, a retrospective at the Ekaterina Cultural Foundation and at the Russian Museum. He has also written a short novel entitled And Two Figures (2003). V.G.