Home Modernists David Kakabadze Biography

David Kakabadze (1889 - 1952)

Kakabadze wore many hats: modernist artist, film director, stage designer, experimenter, inventor of glassless stereo cinema, art researcher and theorist. He was one of the most significant figures of Georgian modernism.

He was born in 1889, in the village of Kukhi, Georgia. After finishing Kutaisi gymnasium, he studied at the faculty of Natural Sciences within St. Petersburg University. Simultaneously, he worked in the studio of the painter L. Dimitryev-Kavkazsky.

“Maybe it sounds paradoxically, but science – mathematics, physics, chemistry, had a great influence on his artistic work,” wrote his contemporary and fellow artist, Kirill Zdanevich.

In 1910, he began to work in photography.

In 1914, four artists – Kakabadze, Philonov, Kirillov and Lason-Spirova established a society: “Intimate Studio of Painters and Illustrators (Интимная мастерская живописцев и рисовальщиков). They published the manifesto, “Made Pictures” (Сделанные картины). The manifesto expressed the philosophy behind Kakabadze’s work – that the picture has to be created, completed and released from everything unintentional. His famous “Self-portrait in front of the Mirror” and Cubist “Self-portrait” are created in this period.

In 1916, after graduating from the university, Kakabadze returned to Georgia. He taught physics and mathematics in Tbilisi school. In 1917, he bagan to work on a series of Imereti landscapes, focusing on one of Georgia’s most picturesque regions. By 1918 he already creates “Still Life of Imereti” and “Imereti – My Mother”. This last is the “synthesis of his artistic work of 1910-s, done according to his statement of ‘made pictures” (K. Zdanevich).

In 1919, together with Lado Gudiashvili and Sergei Sudeykin, he painted the most popular artistic cafe of that period – “Kimerioni” (in the basement of what is now Rustaveli National Theatre). He also participated in painting the murals in artistic cafés, “Fantastic Tavern” and “Peacock’s Tail”.

In 1919, together with his brother Sargis Kakabadze, he published “Shvidi Mnatobi” (“Seven Stars”) – an interdisciplinary journal with the following sub-departments: Belles-lettres literature, Art, Science, Political reflections, Cooperation, where printed his articles on art.

In the same year, Kakabadze departed for France, where he stayed until 1927. All his famous series belong to the Parisian period: “Bretagne” (1921), the graphic and oil cubist series “Paris” (1920), “Sailing Boats” (1921), “Abstract Forms of Blooming Gardens” (1921), and collages with lenses (1924).

From 1921 through 1927, he participated in each annual exhibition of the “Salon of the Independents” (Salon des indépendants).

He published books “On the Constructionist Picture” in French (1921), “Paris 1920-1923” (1924) and “Art and Space” (1925) in Georgian. In 1924-26 he collaborated with Leon Rosenberg’s Bulletin de L’effort Moderne where he published letters on modern art: “Lart-L Espace”, “Du Tableau Constructif”, “Deux Conceptions Spatiales (Orient et Occident).

In 1922 he concluded an agreement with M. Muller and K. Kobakhidze on the invention of the “Glassless Stereo Cinematography.” For this accomplishment a joint-stock company was established with the capital of 900 thousand French francs. After the presentation of the invention to the Optics Institute in Paris, the patent on it was purchased by the USA, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Hungary.

In 1926, the founders of ‘Société Anonyme’ -- Catherin Drier, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, with collaboration of Wassily Kandinsky, Kurt and Helen Schwitters, Fernand Leger, Heinrich Kampendonk and Anton Giulio Bragaglia -- arranged a big international exhibition of modern art at the Brooklyn Museum. For this reason, Société Anonyme which was also known as an “Experimental Museum,” purchased Davit Kakabadze’s works. Among the works was the sculpture “Z,” which today is kept at Yale University Art Gallery together with his other works. See the list of participants in the catalogue of the exhibition dedicated to the 60th anniversary of Kandinsky at http://artgallery.yale.edu/socanon/ as well as some pages of the catalogue on our website.

The Brooklyn Museum exhibition opened on 19 November, 1926 and closed on 1 January, 1927. And this was the fatal year when Kakabadze returned to the annexed and Soviet-dominated Georgia after travelling to Germany, Italy and Greece. At that time Joan Miró and Piet Mondrian – already famous in Europe – made their American debut through this exhibition. This was the period of their internationalization as artists. As for the 37-year-old Davit Kakabadze, this exhibition turned out to be, tragically, his final one. In 1927, after returning to Georgia, he became separated and isolated from the Western artistic world and 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. Simply no one knew about him by that time already.

Kakabadze’s biography on the website of Yale University (Société Anonyme) states that his statue Z: “became the icon for the Société Anonyme collection appearing on the cover of numerous publications . . . In 1928 Kakabadze returned to Georgia, where the government had outlawed abstract art, and he was allowed to create only realistic works. Today Z is his only surviving sculpture.”

Indeed, after returning to Georgia and mounting a one-man exhibition at the “Orient Hotel” in 1928, he produced no art until 1933. The artist himself called these years his “silent period.”

At this time he worked at Tbilisi Art Academy, Kote Marjanishvili theatre and became an art director for the important new work emerging in Georgian cinema: Michael Chiaureli’s film “Saba” (1929), Michael Kalatozishvili’s films “Salt of Svaneti” (1931) and “Blind Woman” (1931), and Chiaureli’s film “Khabarda,” the last in collaboration with Lado Gudiashvili. All these films were later banned. He worked as an artist for Davit Rondeli’s film “Paradise Lost” (1937). In 1929-1931 he made his own film, “Monuments of Material Culture in Georgia,” which was at once labeled as ideologically anti-Soviet, It was suppressed, as a result, and to this day is considered lost.

In 1930s his works, especially of Parisian period are considered formalistic. He was forced to compromise and in 1933 creates graphic series “Rioni Power Station” while in 1940-1950s creates pictures on industrial themes.

In the 1940s, he completed the work he’d begun in Paris on Georgian ornaments. From 1943, he served as professor of the Academy of Art, and in 1933-1942 – he became the head of the studies of the same institution.

On July 12, 1948 the order was issued to the Tbilisi Academy of Art that he “could not instruct students according to the socialist realism method and he was dismissed from his position from the 1948-49 academic year.”

Davit Kakabadze died unexpectedly on 10 May, 1952.