Plan pretvorim v zhizn’! / We’ll turn the plan into reality!
Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1947
Much of the artist Viktor Koretskii’s most famous and recognisable work was produced during World War II, with the life-like energy characteristic of his pictures used to rouse the fighting spirit of Soviet troops. That energy is still seen in this poster printed two years after the end of the War, but the aggression is replaced with optimism. The plan on the left-hand side curls up above the architect’s head, over the image of its realisation.
The presence of this poster in the Catherine Cooke collection gives some idea of the breadth of material it contains. Catherine’s interest first and foremost was in early Soviet architecture, and she amassed academic and professional publications relating to the subject – and also related visual material, such as this poster. Her interest in Soviet design more widely led to the collection encompassing material of all descriptions, whether a stimulating book on design or an attractive example of it.
My trebuem! / We demand!
Petrograd: Petrooblit, [1924?]
First released in 1923 as a poster, this striking image of children demanding a safe and healthy childhood was published as a postcard under the auspices of the Exhibition/Museum for the Protection of Motherhood and Children, with a print-run of 100,000 copies. Among the banners are demands for mother’s milk and trained midwives. Signed A. Komarov, the image is usually credited to Aleksei Nikanorovich Komarov, best known for his pictures of wildlife in books for children, although the reverse of the postcard gives his name as A.K. Komarov.
Na knizhnom fronte / On the book frontline
Nos. 17-18: Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo, 1929
The State Publishing House was established in 1919 and had power in its early years not only over book production but also over literary societies. Its journal, The bulletin of the State Publishing House, first came out in 1921, and was renamed On the book frontline in 1929. The issue on display celebrates the publishing house’s 10th anniversary, or, as the cover illustration says, 10 years of the Soviet book. The number 10 looms out like a double-barrelled gun levelled at illiteracy.
Bilet knizhnoi loterei TSentral’nogo pravleniia Obshchestva ‘Doloi negramotnost’’ / Ticket for the Central Board of the ‘Down with Illiteracy’ Society book lottery
[Moscow?]: Obshestvo ‘Doloi negramotnost’’, 
This ticket, number 5836 of one million printed, quotes Lenin in the border around the central text: ‘The illiterate person stands outside politics – first he must be taught to read and write.’ The ‘Down with Illiteracy’ Society ran for over a decade from the mid-1920s, although the high level of illiteracy in the country dropped only slowly, with the target to see the vast majority of the population literate reached only in the 1950s.
Moskva, Gosudarstvennyi universitet imeni M.V. Lomonosova / Moscow, the M.V. Lomonosov State University
[Prague?]: Artia, 1957
Moscow State University’s main corpus, shown here, is one of the famous monumental buildings constructed in Moscow in the late Stalinist period; they are discussed in depth elsewhere in this exhibition. Education was a unifying factor across society and borders, and this postcard was produced for the sixth International Festival of Youth and Students. This was held in Moscow, but the postcard seems to have been printed in Prague. Artia was famed for its pop-up publications, thanks in large part to the designer Vojt?ch Kubašta, whose ground-breaking first Artia pop-up book had been published only the year before.
5-go maia – den’ bol’shevistskoi pechati: 3ii oblastnoi i gorodskoi slet detkorov / 5 May – Day of the Bolshevik Print: 3rd Regional and Municipal Meeting of Child Correspondents
5 May 1912 saw the first issue of Pravda and the date became the focus of Bolshevik celebrations of print. The invitation on display invites detkory (child correspondents) to a meeting held as part of the 1947 Leningrad celebrations, taking place on, in fact, 4 May, and followed by a concert. This particular festivity was for detkory of the Leninskie iskry (‘Lenin’s sparks’) newspaper, which ran from 1924 as a Pioneer paper. The Pioneer motto Vsegda gotov! (‘Always ready!’) is in the emblem on the top left-hand side.
Mikhail Gurevich and Andrei Igumnov
Komsomol Kuznetskstroia / The Komsomol of Kuznetskstroi
Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1932
This children’s book is full of both aesthetic charm and educational morals. Its first subject is the role of the Komsomol (the youth wing of the Communist Party) in the running of the enormous Kuznetsk Metallurgical Plant. The illustration shown is of the third conference of the Komsomol, at which aims for the plant’s progress were set. The rest of the book demonstrates the importance of industry, a symbol of progress and of the people’s patriotic and political determination to work.
Vse dlia voiny! / All for the war!
Petrograd: Izd. Upravleniia po dielam” melkago kredita, 1916
This postcard, which advertises 5.5% war bonds, provides a striking example of what we would consider to be typically Soviet style in a pre-Revolutionary item. The use of red, the presence of industrial machinery, and the image of the plainly dressed working woman are all components which are more typical of our ideas of Soviet design. It is a reminder of the fact that much of the new Soviet iconography and style had roots in the past.
Kak poluchit’ 150 tsentnerov kartofelia s gektara / How to produce 150 quintals [15,000 kilograms] of potatoes from one hectare
[Sverdlovsk?]: OGIZ: Sverdlovskoe oblastnoe gosudarstvennoe izdatel'stvo, 1947
While the 1916 image (left) shows a pre-Soviet woman at work in a factory, this 1947 book shows a Soviet woman in an apparently pre-industrial setting, engaged in manual labour in the fields. 1946 had seen the start of the last major Soviet famine, and this book was typical of the printed encouragement for increased agricultural outputs. Several success stories are given, and first among these is that of Anna Kondrat’evna Iutkina. Already the holder of a Stalin Prize, in 1943 she produced 141,400 kilograms of potatoes from one hectare.
[Chlenskii bilet] Vsesoiuznaia akademiia arkhitektury / All-Union Academy of Architecture identity card
The Academy of Architecture of the USSR was founded in Moscow in 1934, and this identity card was issued the same year. The card is of design interest in and of itself, displaying stylised use of typography and the colour red against the basic black and white. The photograph of the card-holder is also greatly stylised. Recorded on the card as a drawing instructor, Petr Mitrofanovich Shukhmin was awarded a Stalin prize in 1942 for his own paintings, of which the most famous was his 1927 Prikaz o nastuplenii (‘Order to advance’).
Brat’ia Vesniny / The Vesnin brothers
Moscow: Izdatel'stvo literatury po stroitel’stvu, 1970
The three Vesnin brothers worked together as an architectural team at the forefront of design in the early Soviet period. Adherents to Constructivism, they took part in many of the great Soviet architectural competitions of the 1920s and 1930s. The images shown here are of the floor plan and perspective view of their entry for the Moscow Palace of Labour competition; taking third place, it was a combination of ‘social innovation with technical boldness’, as Catherine Cooke wrote in 1999.
Kakaia vysota! / What a height!
Moscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1961
V.V. Maiakovskii v masterskoi ‘Okon Rosta’ / V.V. Maiakovskii in the ‘Rosta Window’ workshop
Moscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1960
These two postcards show paintings from the Socialist Realism school. Indulis Zari?š (russified as Zarin) painted ‘What a height!’ in 1958, portraying workers on a construction site in a typically heroic style. The worker on the left is particularly symbolic – unshakeable and full of purpose. Soaring architecture represented success and power in the Soviet Union, and the birds in the background combine with the distant views below to bolster the message of the title.
The poet and artist Maiakovskii died in 1941, and Aleksandr Deineka produced this painting of him 11 years later. The picture is extraordinary for its combination of styles in terms of its execution and content. Maiakovskii’s own paintings, showing simplified images with a satirical edge, are surrounded by the supreme Socialist Realism that Deineka was famed for; the firm stance and determined expression, and the practical, non-luxurious surroundings.
The Deineka postcard is also interesting for a detail on its verso. The price is printed as 25 kopecks for 1960, but 3 kopecks from 1 January of the following year – a witness to the 1961 currency reforms.
Examples of Soviet currency
These five notes demonstrate some of the diversity in Soviet economic policy and the uniformity of Soviet currency design; the fronts of all show the USSR slogan, and all the later notes show Lenin.
1, 2, and 3 demonstrate the extremes of the early years of Soviet economic history. The rouble devalued to an inconceivable degree during the Civil War, and the sovznaki (‘Soviet tokens’) promissory notes also issued by the Soviets suffered a similar fate, tied to the rouble’s value. In 1922 a new gold-standard currency, the chervonets, was introduced. Not until the late 1940s would the rouble again be the sole Soviet currency. 1 is a one-rouble sovznak, probably from the first year of its production in 1919. 2 is a 100,000-rouble note printed in 1921. 3 is a 1937 3-chervonets note.
4 and 5 date from the years of the last great Soviet currency reforms. 1961 saw the rouble redenominated (when 4, a 25-rouble note, was printed), whereas 1991, at the tail end of the Soviet period, saw existing notes (of which 5 is a 100-rouble example) compulsorily exchanged for new prints.
Leningrad ration coupons
As in so many other countries, the end of World War II did not see an immediate end to privations; the Soviet Union in fact saw its last widespread famine in 1946–7. The ration coupons on display date from the last stages of post-War rationing.
Bread (200g and 400g quantities) – for use in January 1948
Fat and oil (5g, and a single 100g coupon at the top), with a few 50g and 100g rations for meat or fish on the left – December 1947
Bread (300g) – December 1947
Cereal (2000g, presumably for the whole month) and sugar/sweet food (900g, likewise) – March 1947
Bookmark advertising cigarettes
[Leningrad]: Leningradskii gublit, [1925?]
This bookmark, advertising the wares of the Leningrad State Tobacco Company, also features a calendar for 1926 and metric conversion tables on its reverse. In total, it represents the mix of old and new characteristic of the 1920s period of transition. The style of the illustration is not what we might expect from a Soviet manufacturer, and indeed several of the cigarette brands shown are pre-Revolutionary. The calendar continues the ambiguity, listing as notable dates religious holidays as well as socialist ones.
Gorokhovyi sup s kopchenostiami / Pea soup with smoked meat [packet]
This highly stylised soup packet leaves little doubt as to its contents. The slight misalignment of its elements notwithstanding, it is a striking and aesthetically pleasing example of Soviet packaging design, combining artistic style with functional simplicity. The red badge labelled CCCP towards the top of the left-hand side is the USSR State Mark of Quality, introduced in 1967 for all types of products.
These examples of packaging design date from the 1970s and early 1980s. They show a variety of styles betraying differing advertising motivations.
The tobacco products, for example, range from the basic to the luxurious. At one end of the scale are the Belomorkanal cigarettes, named after the White Sea Canal, infamously built by Gulag prisoners (1). The design, still in use to this day, has changed little since the 1930s. Very strong, with cardboard filters, Belomorkanal were cheap and freely available. At the luxurious end of the scale are the Zolotoi olen’ (‘Golden deer’) cigars; richly designed, with lavish packaging, these were designed for the people’s elite (2).
Packaging was often kept fairly functional, although style was never fully absent. The coffee tin, sugar packet, and perfume – the Polish-produced Mozhet byt’ (‘Maybe’) – are simple yet eye-catching (3,4,5). Patriotic spirit inspires the remaining examples: the chocolate bar called Slava (‘Glory’, 6); the cigarettes named after the capital, Moscow (7); and the Soviet Union’s space program celebrated in the Sputnik cigarettes (8).
Mark Orlov et al.
Magaziny / Shops
Moscow: Stroiizdat, 1979
This book gives exhaustively detailed advice on the design and construction of shops, from choice of location down to product-specific shelving. Published in the last years of the Brezhnev era, it represents the dramatic increases of consumerism in Soviet society overseen by the Brezhnev administration. Its introduction still turns to Lenin for inspiration and justification, as was standard for most Soviet books; in this case, it is the importance of trade that is underlined, rather than the importance of shopping.
Khleb zernovoi ‘Zdorov’e’ / ‘Health’ grain bread (200g)
‘Bread, peace, freedom!’ was one of the slogans marched under during the Revolution. Bread was a highly symbolic consumable; monopolised, rationed, scarce to the point of famine, its fortunes reflected and influenced those of the country as a whole. It became reliably available only in the second half of the Soviet period. The diversity of bread products also increased, and names were very much part of the marketing, as with the example on display, appealing to interest in well-being.
Priglasitel’nye bilety / Invitation tickets
Leningrad, 1947 and 1948
These tickets were issued to Pioneers inviting them to take part in sports competitions. The larger ticket is an invitation to a skiing competition to take place on 16 February 1947, with competitions for younger and older sets of members (the longest distance being 3km for the older boys). Tens of thousands of Pioneers were honoured for their part in the Soviet war effort, and the invitation’s cover shows happy and rather heroic children, skiing in the darkening winter.
The smaller ticket invites Pioneers to take part in both the following year’s competition and also the first winter combined sports meeting. The various sports and related activities are shown in the red strip on the front, joined by the Pioneer motto, ‘Always ready!’
Sovetskie tkani 1920-1930-kh godov / Soviet fabrics of the 1920s and 1930s
Leningrad: Khudozhnik RSFSR, 1977
Soviet fabric design developed hand in hand with other artistic disciplines. This beautifully illustrated volume features examples of designs produced in the early Soviet period, reflecting political and creative motivations. Fabric patterns could be propaganda as well as art, and were indeed part of the mass propaganda machine of the 1920s. Inspiration came from progress, from factories, transport, and collectivisation. Sporting motifs also appear, as in the example shown here of aquatic sports.
1979 and 1980
While some illustrated envelopes first appeared in the 1930s, the type of which these two are examples were produced from the 1950s. These prepaid envelopes featured a wide range of illustrations, often celebrating events and achievements. The examples on display commemorate two international sporting events held in Moscow. The top envelope celebrates the 1979 Ice Hockey World Championship, which was won by the Soviet Union. The second celebrates the 1980 Olympic Games and features floor gymnastics, won for the Soviet Union by Nelli Kim.
Sportivnye sooruzheniia XXII Olimpiady / Sport buildings of the 22nd Olympic Games
Moscow: Stroiizdat, 1984
This book contains meticulous descriptions of the venues used for the 1980 Olympic Games, primarily held in Moscow. The top-left picture shows the opening ceremony, held in the V.I. Lenin Central Stadium. Below it is the Brutalist press centre, specially built for the Games. On the right are two shots of the Krylatskoe rowing channel. All kinds of infrastructure were boosted for the Olympics, in particular the transport system. Moscow’s Sheremet’evo airport was expanded, for example, to cope with the influx, opening its second, larger terminal in January 1980.
Soviet badges, much like illustrated envelopes, celebrated all kinds of things – places, organisations, anniversaries, achievements. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were no exception, spawning dozens of badges, including many of the endearing bear Misha, the mascot of the Games. The two on display do not feature him, but bear witness instead to the wide variety of styles used. While one features modern, minimalist straight lines, the other uses an extremely traditional folk image.
Pervyi sovetskii metropoliten / The first Soviet metropolitan
Moscow: Mospartizdat, 1934
[Moscow]: Intourist, [1935?]
The L.M. Kaganovich Metropolitan in Moscow opened in 1935. Kaganovich, whose words open the book on the left, was the Soviet administrator who oversaw the planning and construction of the first part of the metro. A fearsome figure in the Stalinist administration, Kaganovich extraordinarily survived both the regime and its aftermath, living to within a few months of the Soviet Union’s own demise. In 1955, the metro system was renamed after Lenin.
The pride that the Soviet Union felt about its first underground system can be seen in the quality of productions made about it. The cover of The Moscow Metro (right) would have been passed through the press a number of times, with red, black, and extra gold print layered on top of a textured golden paper. Its contents are full of relish in the achievement of a country considered backward and insufficiently industrialised: ‘Not a single subway in the world can be compared with the Moscow Metro in the beauty and finish of its stations’.
Skhema linii Moskovskogo metropolitena im V.I. Lenina / Map of the V.I. Lenin Moscow Metropolitan
Maps of the metro were updated frequently, reflecting the speed with which lines and stations opened. The map on display dates to 1976, but its usage is definitely later. Catherine Cooke’s distinctive writing can be seen in the middle, adding the interlinked station Gor’kovskaia on the green line, which was opened only in 1979. Gor’kovskaia was named after the street it lay beneath, itself named after the writer Maksim Gor’kii (often anglicised as Maxim Gorky). Both street and station changed to the street’s original name, Tverskaia, in 1990.
Lev Shugurov and Vladimir Shirshov
Avtomobili strany sovetov / Automobiles of the country of the Soviets
Moscow: Izdatel'stvo DOSAAF SSSR, 1983
This book is a delightful celebration of Soviet vehicle design. The selection on display demonstrates the rather functional approach often taken to design. The Soviet Union’s most famous car, the Zhiguli, better known by its export name Lada, is shown in two shots on the inside of the right-hand page. It is also shown in the bottom picture, alongside other classic Soviet models at an international car fair in Belgrade in 1972.
Na Berlin! / To Berlin!
Moscow: Krasnoe znamia, 1944
Transport could also be destructive. The creator of many classic early Soviet posters, Dolgorukov turned his expertise in propaganda and satire easily to the War. He produced many parodies of Hitler, but also straighter, more sombre images. The postcard on display has moved in theme from the aggressive resistance of earlier works to the triumphant chase westwards. Stalin’s call to ‘finish off the fascist beast in his own lair’ is written below. ‘To Berlin!’ proclaims the tank, with bombers crossing the air above the desolate wilderness below.
Zdravstvui, solntse! / Hello, sun!
Kalinin: Izogiz, 1959
S. A. Pomanskii
Slava KPSS! / Glory to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union!
[Moscow?]: Ministerstvo sviazi SSSR, 1961
These two bright postcards demonstrate the pride felt in the Soviet space programme. The card on the left celebrates the specific event of the launch on 2 January 1959 of Luna-1, shown here flying a flag with the USSR’s name on it. Meant to crash on the moon and remain as the first man-made object there, the spacecraft overshot, but the far greater achievement of travelling to the moon’s vicinity was much celebrated. The postcard glows with the optimism of limitless possibilities.
The manned flight of the Vostok in 1961, shown in the postcard on the right, was an extraordinary moment in history. However, the flag is the main image here, with Gagarin’s spacecraft merely a background detail. While the first card is unwritten, this one, delightfully, is, in the year the card was printed:
‘Dear Iakov Ivanovich, Happy 44th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution; we wish you health, happiness, and success at work and at home. Class 8b’
Da zdravstvuet mezhdunarodnaia proletarskaia revoliutsiia! / Hail the international proletariat revolution! Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo, 1925
This depiction of a celebratory march is full of remarkable details telling of its time. ‘Face to the country!’ reads one banner, the slogan for the mid-1920s drive to embed revolutionary principles outside the urban population. The four figures leading at the front symbolise the union of the workers (in white) with their peasant counterparts. Progress is celebrated in the planes flying above the crowds and in the red tram, ‘A present for the 1st of May’ painted on its front.
Three letters, MUP, in the bottom right-hand corner, are the only indication of the artist’s identity, which proved hard to establish until a combination of research and luck discovered it. Maksim Vladimirovich Ushakov-Poskochin was a prolific book illustrator as well as a poster artist. His work was largely and unfairly forgotten following his arrest and his death in 1943 in the Gulag system. He was formally rehabilitated during the Khrushchev era.
The authorship of the poster was confirmed by the artist’s son, who lives in St Petersburg. Not only did he verify his father’s work, he also sent a photograph of an early watercolour sketch for it. A print-out is provided next to the poster. The relationship between the two is remarkable. On the one hand, there are great similarities, particularly the four figures at the front, who barely change between sketch and finished poster. On the other hand, the difference in tone is quite marked; the sketch is almost nightmarish in its unreal colours and imagery. The most striking difference is in the space the poster gives to a statue of Lenin. In the sketch, this is taken by the effigy of a rich man dangling above a cauldron of fire.
Neither Ushakov-Poskochin’s son or grandson had seen the finished poster before. They are delighted that this beautiful example of the artist’s work has survived and can be enjoyed by so many people through this exhibition.
Watercolour sketch reproduced by kind permission of the estate of Maksim Vladimirovich Ushakov-Poskochin
1 maia / 1 May
[Leningrad]: Lentorgreklama, 1954
The use of celebratory bookmarks as a marketing device was common in the Soviet Union. The example on display was sponsored by Lenknigotorg, the body which oversaw book trade in Leningrad. ‘A book is the best 1st of May present’ reads the reverse. The image on the front shows a specific form of celebration – the little girl and her father are evidently at a traditional Soviet May Day parade. The red flag she waves was a typical feature at parades and in representations of them.
1944. S novym godom! S novym schast’em! / 1944. Happy New Year! Wishing you new happiness!
Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1943
Leningrad. Saliut / Leningrad. Fireworks
Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1944
Prazdniki (public holidays) continued to be celebrated throughout World War II, though possibly more in theory than in practice. These two postcards, the first, remarkably, printed in besieged Leningrad, demonstrate how the physical Soviet Union became an object of honour.
The New Year card on the left shows part of the Moscow Kremlin: sturdy, unassailable and triumphant. Moscow was one of 12 Soviet cities given the title of gorod-geroi (‘hero town’) after the war. The idea of assigning human characteristics to a physical place was not wholly new. Rodina, the motherland, was increasingly emphasised as a maternal figure under Stalin (himself cast in the supreme father role), and particularly so in patriotism-stirring propaganda.
The card on the right celebrates the 27th anniversary of Great October, the Revolution. It shows the skyline of Leningrad, also later made a gorod-geroi, with a poignant mixture of fireworks and searchlights above. By the time of the anniversary, however, Leningrad’s appalling siege would have been broken for nearly 9 months.
K. K. Ivanov (picture); Sergei Alymov (words); Aleksandr Aleksandrov (music)
Pesnia o Staline / Song about Stalin
[Moscow?]: Voenizdat Voennogo ministerstva SSSR, 1950
The song on the card was first recorded in 1937, originally with three verses (another was added after the War). Aleksandrov, whose initials are shown reversed, also composed the Soviet national anthem. Alymov, interestingly, had previously served time in a prison camp under Stalin’s reign. The lyrics praise Stalin in superhuman and godlike terms; ‘Stalin is the will and mind of millions’, as reflected in the illustration. Searchlight beams still stretch into the sky, but now they serve to illuminate a vast banner featuring the words ‘Glory to great Stalin!’
Pochemu eshche veriat v boga? / Why do they still believe in god?
Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1930
Printed as part of the ‘Burning questions’ series, this book features the series’ standard and eye-catching cover. Religious faith was viewed in the same way as illiteracy, symptomatic of old, backward times. Indeed, Zybkovets argues that illiteracy is the barrier which prevents enlightenment, making the atheist truth harder for peasants to reach. Religion is treated also like a bad habit, with Zybkovets telling of a peasant couple who mutually agree to give up their weaknesses: the wife gives up her praying, the husband his drinking.
Russkii revoliutsionnyi plakat / The Russian revolutionary poster
Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo, 1925
Polonskii’s early book about propaganda posters contains a large number of reproductions, many in colour. Rozhdestvo (‘Christmas’), shown, is by Dmitrii Moor, one of the great poster artists. Published in 1921, its comparison between the religious and socialist celebrations is echoed by two poems below by N. Gorlov. Contrast is even in the details (the religious procession marches over the oppressed masses; the socialist marches on rejected finery), but with the shared iconography of the star.
S novym godom! 1959 / Happy New Year! 1959
[Leningrad]: Leningradskii knigotorg, 
New Year’s Day was the only non-political holiday celebrated in the Soviet Union, but it was only given official recognition in the late 1940s. Its celebrations took on much of the role of Christmas, as a family celebration with gift-giving. The Christmas tree was replaced by the New Year tree, its Star of Bethlehem by the red star. The celestial bodies shown on the bookmark are of quite a different sort – the eyes of the Soviets would follow red spacecraft in 1959.
Iakov Apushkin et al.
Antireligioznyi sbornik / Antireligious anthology
[Moscow: Teakinopechat’, 1930
The same group of dramatists and poets published an Anti-Easter anthology in 1930 intended for village amateur dramatics groups, and we may assume that this work was aimed at the same readership. Short and simple pieces tell of enlightenment and freedom for peasants. The cover illustration is interesting for the relationship between the two buildings; the factory may be in front, but the giant, ghostly proportions of the religious building possibly reflect the scale of problem the Soviets felt they faced.
30 dnei: illiustrirovannyi ezhemesiachnik / 30 days: an illustrated monthly
No. 12: Moscow: GIKhL, 1931
30 days featured articles and short stories from many of the Soviet Union’s top writers. The journal also always featured eye-catching covers. The example on display presents socialism and religion in a more predictable relationship than in the exhibit to the left. Konstantinov’s picture shows Soviet progress crushing the old, backward order. The church is dwarfed by the red steamroller and sinks into the mire while in the background, new buildings soar. The shrines of the Soviet faith would be on a breath-taking scale.
Paris 1937: Exposition Internationale Arts et Techniques: les plus belles vues de l'exposition
This extraordinary view shows, on the right-hand side, the first appearance of Vera Mukhina’s iconic Soviet statue of a male worker and female collective farm worker, striding forward with hammer and sickle in their respective raised hands. Standing an enormous 25 metres high, the statue stood as a Socialist Realist tribute to the power and determination of the Soviet workers and peasants. The dramatic stand-off of the statue and the German entry opposite is chilling in the light of the years to come.
[Soviet pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, 1939]
The last pre-War World’s Fair opened in New York in April 1939. It opened for a second season in 1940, but the Soviet pavilion, shown here, appeared only for the first. There was no German entry at either. Reminiscent of the 1937 Mukhina statue (left), Viacheslav Andreev’s colossal worker raises a red star to the sky. The pavilion building itself was, as the 1937 one, designed by the architect Boris Iofan, best known in relation to the monumental buildings which had already started to appear in Moscow.
Moscow’s multi-storey buildings
Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1954
The most famous examples of Stalinist monumental architecture are the so-called Seven Sisters in Moscow. These buildings, individually designed but with a clear common pattern, are the subject of this book written by Moscow’s chief architect from 1950 to 1955. The cover shows the gigantic Kotel’nicheskaia embankment block of flats completed in 1952. Vlasov is keen to disregard any suggestion of influence by American skyscrapers. American building practice, for example, was ‘ruled out’, replaced by ‘the Soviet theory of multi-storey construction’.
The Chicago Temple Building by night, Chicago
Chicago: Max Rigot Selling Agency, [1950s?]
If Vlasov, in the book to the left, was keen to play down links between American and Soviet high-rise buildings, the presence of this postcard in the Catherine Cooke collection suggests that Catherine saw the links very clearly. The skyscraper most frequently cited as an inspiration for the Seven Sisters is New York’s Manhattan Municipal Building, but the postcard’s Chicago Temple Building, opened in 1924, also shows clear similarities. The fact that this monumental structure was built as a place of Christian worship is an interesting point of contrast.
Vysotnye zdaniia v Moskve: proekty / High-rise buildings in Moscow: projects
Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo literatury po stroitel?stvu i arkhitekture, 1951
In 1951, the USSR Academy of Architecture produced a detailed guide to the Seven Sisters, at the time still being planned or constructed. An introductory volume is followed by a portfolio of plans, views, and mock-ups for each of the buildings, making an incredible resource. Three buildings and examples of what their portfolios contain are shown. While the buildings in their intimidating size would all speak of power, they were not all government buildings. Those shown here, for example, are Moscow State University (1), a hotel (2), and living quarters (3).
Vysotnye zdaniia v Moskve: proekty / High-rise buildings in Moscow: projects
Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo literatury po stroitel?stvu i arkhitekture, 1951
The term ‘Seven Sisters’ for the most iconic Stalinist buildings in Moscow hides a less well-known fact, that there were originally mean to be eight. Unlike the examples on show to the left, the Zariad’e building was to be governmental, containing administrative offices. As the perspective view on display shows, it would dwarf the Kremlin and St Basil’s to the left. Work began but ceased after Stalin’s death. This would not be the only great monument to fail to see the light of day.
Vysotnye zdaniia v Moskve: proekty / High-rise buildings in Moscow: projects
Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo literatury po stroitel?stvu i arkhitekture, 1951
Of all the building monuments planned for Moscow, the Palace of the Soviets was by far the most epic. It was the subject of more than one architectural competition in the 1930s, with Boris Iofan the eventual winner. The opening on display shows projections of the new Stalinist skyline. The other giants are overshadowed by the Palace of the Soviets in the centre. With little progress made since construction had been halted by World War 2, however, the Palace’s future was already uncertain when this was published in 1951.
Moscow: Stroiizdat, 1978
Iofan’s Palace of the Soviets, pictured here from two angles, would have been the architectural jewel in the Soviet crown. The statue of Lenin on top would have stood up to 100 metres high. Work started in the 1930s but was abandoned during the War. Iofan subsequently replanned a more modest Palace, but the project, the greatest Soviet architectural dream, was eventually cancelled. The site became an enormous outdoor swimming pool, until the cathedral which had been demolished to make way for the Palace was rebuilt in the 1990s.
Marten: literaturno-khudozhestvennyi ezhemesiachnik / Furnace: a literary monthly
No 11: [Dnepropetrovsk]: Zvezda, 1927
This journal cover appears to show Boris Iofan’s Palace of the Soviets at an advanced stage of construction; Lenin’s stance is similar, even the plinth is a match. Yet the date of publication is 1927, four years before the first architectural competition for the Palace even began, and for which Iofan’s first proposal actually lacked the vast statue. The illustration apparently confused even Catherine. Also displayed is a note in her writing, found in the journal. ‘NB this is Nov ’27 of P[alace] o[f] S[oviet]s’ [her emphasis].
Pamiatnik III Internatsionala / Monument to the Third International
Peterburg: Izdanie Otdela izobrazitel’nykh iskusstv NKP, 1920
Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International, often known as Tatlin’s Tower, is an iconic example of architectural Constructivism, despite the fact that it was never built. The Third International was founded in Moscow in 1919 as a global communist organisation. Planned to be 400 metres tall, Tatlin’s tribute to it was an impossible dream for a country in civil war and economic crisis. The impact of Tatlin’s vision remains to this day, however. ‘[Tatlin] has given the world a new form of monumental creation’, wrote Punin.
Materializatsiia fantastiki / The materialisation of fantasy
Moscow: Kinopechat’, 1927
Erenburg (frequently transliterated as Ehrenburg) was a literary author first and foremost, but this book is in praise of film. ‘Cinema is Adam, it has the right to name the new universe,’ he wrote. Erenburg wondered at the power of film as a ground-breaking medium which could both capture reality with an immediacy other media lacked, and also enable boundless fantasy. The arresting image on the cover is by Aleksandr Rodchenko, a giant in Soviet design. The negative/positive composition emphasises the woman’s almost hypnotised stare.
Vol. 59, no. 7/8: Russian Constructivism and Iakov Chernikhov
London: Academy Group, 1989
Early Soviet design collectives removed the barriers between artistic disciplines, and Chernikhov was a leader in this genre-defiance, designing typefaces as naturally as buildings. He both taught and practised architecture and design, and his books of ideas and fantasies pushed his own, his contemporaries’, and his students’ creative boundaries. Chernikhov was a major focus of Catherine Cooke’s research. This volume, guest-edited by her, features many of his extraordinary fantasies. Fantasy no. 87 (right hand page) is a ‘musical composition invention’ with the rhythm of ‘building structure’.
Sovremennaia arkhitektura / Contemporary architecture
No. 1: Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo, 1926
Sovetskaia arkhitektura / Soviet architecture
Nos. 1-2: Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe nauchno-tekhnicheskoe izdatel’stvo, 1931
The journals on display are examples of the early building blocks of Catherine’s collection. Quoted liberally in her doctoral thesis, these publications contained articles and project plans by ground-breaking architects of the early Soviet period.
Contemporary architecture was founded by the Organisation of Modern Architects (OSA), a group which included many architects whose designs are on display throughout this exhibition. Inside this, the journal’s first issue, the cry is ‘Down with eclecticism! Hail the functional way of thinking! HAIL CONSTRUCTIVISM!’
Modern architecture was last published in 1930. Soviet architecture began the following year, covering the activities of a wide number of avant-garde groups. OSA was represented under its new name, SASS (Sector of Architects of the Soviet Union). The journal’s approach represented attempts to bring the various avant-garde architectural groups together within one larger professional structure.
Kino / Cinema
Moscow: Proletkino, 1925
There are many examples in the Cooke collection of lavishly produced early Soviet books. This 1925 Soviet book on film is bursting with illustrations, many of them in colour. The pictures shown here are from films by Abram Room, a director and screenwriter who worked into the 1970s. The right-hand section of text discusses Vasilii Griaznov, the only antireligious film made so far, as the compiler writes. Readers of Russian will see that the early, feminine form of the word ‘film’ is used.
My russkie khudozhniki Levoi Federatsii / We, Russian artists of the Left Federation
[Moscow?, 1919-1922 (precise date unknown)]
We, Russian artists of the Left Federation, ask American artists to help us disseminate our creative and practical work, giving us the opportunity to display our creative activity, which has been constrained due to the difficult situation in our motherland.
This letter to "ARA", presumed to be the American Relief Administration, is printed with the stamp of Levaia Federatsiia (the Left Federation) and is signed by 32 of that union's members: a roster of designers, artists, writers, and architects whose work still influences culture today. The verso is shown, with some of the most famous names among the signatures. The Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich is the penultimate signatory. The last is Vladimir Tatlin, whose Monument to the Third International is featured in the 'Fantasy' case.
The letter is an extraordinary witness to an extraordinary time. The
different colours of ink still bright on the paper, this is one of the
greatest treasures in the Cooke collection.
Material’naia chast’ artillerii / Artillery equipment
Moscow: Otdel izdatels?tva NKVM, 1934.
This rare and surprising book is an album of coloured posters about equipment care and use, designed for military training. The posters are quite extraordinary, as the example on display shows. Among the standard colour images are stereo-plakaty (‘stereo-posters’), to be viewed through coloured glasses. Glasses have been provided in the box to the side; please replace them after use. The images here show a gun crew preparing for fire, and then reloading the 1927 76mm cannon.
Material from Catherine’s exhibition on Chernikhov
Catherine put on many exhibitions, several relating to Iakov Chernikhov (discussed in the ‘Fantasy’ case of this exhibition). The items on display relate to a show she organised in the 1980s called ‘Chernikhov: fantasy and construction’. The level of care put into her exhibitions is witnessed both by the painstakingly designed captions and illustrations – as the two red and white titles show, Catherine did mock-ups by hand before printing – and by her photographic records. Two shots show the preparation stage, and two the magnificent result.
Konstruktivizm / Constructivism
Tver’ : Tverskoe izdatel’stvo, 1922
As Catherine wrote in a book chapter published in 1999, Gan’s ‘constantly repeated challenge to one creative field after another was precisely this: “where is the new ideology?”’ Like Catherine herself, Gan criticised the old but also the new, insisting that creativity without ideology was redundant. In this, his most famous book, typography drives his words home. ‘Death to art!’ he shouts at the bottom of the left-hand page. ‘A new chronology began on the 25th of October 1917’ ends the following page. The beginning of the Revolution was the beginning of a new life.