Socialist Worker

Imagine Moscow: How Stalin debased the design of revolution and other exhibitions

Issue No. 2555

Boris Iofans Palace of the Soviets, 1933

Boris Iofan's Palace of the Soviets, 1933 (Pic: Shchusev State Museum of Architecture)


Imagine Moscow takes six architectural projects to show how the Russian Revolution shaped the way people thought about the world. Only one was ever fully realised, but each has a unique interpretation of what the revolution meant.

New cultural movements thrown up by the revolution bled through into popular culture.

Constructivist fabric designs and Suprematist porcelain designs nestle among larger pieces in the exhibition.

In a section on industrial manufacturing design are several examples that borrow heavily from Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International.

Design

The exhibition starts with El Lissitzky’s “Iron Cloud” design for colossal “horizontal skyscrapers” to encircle central Moscow.

They were to be a solution to chronic overcrowding due to rapid population growth.

But they were also a metaphor for humans lifting themselves out of feudal misery and mastering the world around them.

Perhaps the most grotesque piece, other than designs for revolutionary leader Lenin’s mausoleum, is Boris Iofan’s Palace of the Soviets from 1933.

Iofan’s work in general moved away from design inspired by the revolutionary process and back towards classical architecture.

Lenin

The palace was to be taller than the Empire State Building in New York, with a 100-metre statue of Lenin on top.

The history of the Palace of the Soviets itself serves as a metaphor for the historical processes unleashed by the bureaucratic counter-revolution led by Joseph Stalin.

Stalin blew up the Russian Orthodox cathedral that stood on the site. Construction started in 1937, was halted by the Second World War, and the site later turned into a huge swimming pool by Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev. Finally in 1994 a replica of the original cathedral was erected on the site.

The exhibition begins with an account of Lenin’s orders to tear down all the Tsarist and religious iconography and ends with a room dedicated to his deification by the Stalinist dictatorship.

On display is the great hope brought by the revolution and its gross debasement by the bureaucratic counter-revolution.

If you have a free afternoon, don’t miss the chance to see this exhibition before it finishes.

Imagine Moscow is showing until 4 June at The Design Museum 224—238 Kensington High St, London, W8 6AG, tickets £10/£7.50 Go to designmuseum.org

The Partisan Coffee House

This tells the story of the Partisan Coffee House, founded by radical historian Raphael Samuel, cultural theorist Stuart Hall and others.

It includes unseen photographs by Roger Mayne, with designs by graphic artist Germano Facetti and letterpress printer Desmond Jeffery, archive material and film clips.

The Partisan Coffee House is showing until 27 May at Four Corners, 121 Roman Rd, London E2 0QN. Free. Open Tue-Sat, 10am-6pm. Go to fourcornersfilm.co.uk

Banners for Spain: Fighting the Spanish Civil War in London

The fight against the fascists in Spain in the 1930s had an impact across Britain.

With artefacts from the Marx Memorial Library’s archives and stories of the Islington International Brigaders, this exhibition showcases six newly-conserved banners for Aid Spain.

Banners for Spain showing at Islington Museum, 245 St John St, London EC1V 4NB. Until 8 July. Free. Open on Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri and Sat: 10am-5pm

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