From Rus­sia, With Color

A new ex­hi­bi­tion at the Martin-Gropius-Bau doc­u­ments the ar­chi­tec­tural avant-garde in Bol­she­vik Rus­sia. Solveig Steinhardt stopped by to ad­mire the geo­met­ric build­ings.

Where Berlin - - CONTENTS -

Stop and ad­mire the geo­met­ric forms of avant-garde ar­chi­tec­ture in Bol­she­vik Rus­sia. BY SOLVEIG STEINHARDT

Not many peo­ple know that the Bauhaus school, which flour­ished in the Ger­man 1920s and com­bined craft and art to cre­ate func­tional liv­ing spa­ces and de­sign, had a less fa­mous Rus­sian cousin, go­ing by the almost un­pro­nounce­able name of VKhUTEMAS. This con­struc­tivist academy was founded in Moscow in the 1920s as a byprod­uct of the Bol­she­vik revo­lu­tion, and was meant “to pre­pare master artists of the high­est qual­i­fi­ca­tions for in­dus­try, and builders and man­agers for pro­fes­sional-tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion,” as stated in a Soviet de­cree of the time. Stu­dents were ex­posed to a com­pre­hen­sive cur­ricu­lum that in­cluded the study of plas­tic forms, paint­ing, sculp­ture, print­ing, tex­tiles, wood­work, and metal work, although the cre­ative re­sults were slightly more ab­stract than their Bauhaus coun­ter­parts.

Con­struc­tivism in­flu­enced a num­ber of new build­ings in the early Soviet years, from power sta­tions to of­fice build­ings and com­mu­nal leisure fa­cil­i­ties, but the VKhUTEMAS academy also de­liv­ered much more am­bi­tious ar­chi­tec­tural projects, such as the ne­ver­built Tatlin Tower, which was to be erected in Pet­ro­grad out of iron, glass, and steel. In­tended to cel­e­brate the Bol­she­vik Revo­lu­tion and house the head­quar­ters of the Third Com­mu­nist In­ter­na­tional, Tatlin’s tower was to be so big that it would have dwarfed the Eif­fel Tower. After all, the aim of the move­ment was to set it­self apart from other cre­ative schools in Europe, rep­re­sent­ing the high as­pi­ra­tions of the newly born USSR. VKhUTEMAS flour­ished when the Soviet Union’s gov­ern­ment was still rel­a­tively lib­eral but, just like Bauhaus, it suf­fered from the in­creas­ingly to­tal­i­tar­ian regime of its coun­try. Rus­sia’s eco­nomic re­forms soon dic­tated the end of avant- garde art in fa­vor of So­cial­ist Re­al­ism.

This month, the Martin- Gropius- Bau presents around 250 works rep­re­sent­ing and ex­plain­ing this im­por­tant pe­riod in art his­tory.

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