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.
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.