I’ve always had an interest in Russia, so when I visited the Design Museum recently I made sure to check out their exhibition Imagine Moscow. The exhibition, like so many this year, marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, and explores Moscow as it was imagined by a new generation of architects and designers in the 1920s and early 1930s. The projects envisaged by them never materialised, but they remain testaments to the ambition and vision of the new regime.
The projects explored include aviation, communication and industrialisation, using artwork, propaganda and architectural drawings. I was particularly struck by the vision of communal living, with its strict timetables laid out for each worker of the Soviet state. I was torn between admiration for the desire to ensure every person had ample time for recreation and exercise, and horror at the tightly regulated nature of every minute of the day.
One of the most fascinating projects, for me, is the Palace of the Soviets. This, the proposed centre of Soviet administration in Moscow, was imagined as a colossal edifice in the centre of the city, with a gigantic statue of Lenin on top. The nineteenth-century Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on the proposed site was demolished in preparation for work to begin, but the building never got off the ground (literally). Eventually the site became a public swimming pool before a replacement cathedral in the original design was built.
I found the exhibition to be an interesting exploration of what might have been, and a positive introduction to the Design Museum’s new site.
These days I always seem to go to exhibitions towards the end of their run, but I ended up seeing Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths at the British Library fairly early, owing to the fact that some friends wanted to go too. We booked for Saturday afternoon and were surprised to find the exhibition so quiet. Marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution, it uses documents, books, letters, photographs and film footage to explore how the revolution began and developed and the impact it made.
I’m vaguely familiar with what happened, as I am very interested in Russian history anyway, but the exhibition helped to clarify events for me, and I think I left with a greater understanding of what was going on. The exhibition followed a largely chronological path, which I personally found very helpful. It looked at the structure of Russian society at the time of the Tsars before examining how and why the revolution was sparked.
My favourite section was actually the final one, ‘Writing the Revolution’, as it looked at some books which are my favourites, including Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago. I also enjoyed the look at film at the end, including clips from famous Soviet films.
The exhibition runs until 29 August and it’s definitely worth taking some time out to see it this summer.
My longstanding interest in Russia meant that the Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts was right up my street. The exhibition covered the period between 1917 and 1932, when Russia was settling into life post-revolution and artists were first excited by the opportunities the new world presented, then dismayed at the restrictions imposed by Stalin.
During this first fifteen years, artists enjoyed considerable freedom, and revelled in the new possibilities that the new regime offered. However, in 1932 Stalin decreed that Socialist Realism was the only acceptable style for the Soviet Union, ending this burst of creativity.
The exhibition features work by many acclaimed artists, including Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall and Rodchenko. Interestingly it also features film clips of life in Russia, from both films and documentaries about the Soviet regime.
One of the most powerful things about the exhibition had nothing at all to do with art. In the last room, there was a video booth showing photographs of people who had been arrested and sent to gulags by Stalin and his cronies. The faces staring out of the screen are still haunting me.