Konstantin Melnikov, Melnikov House, dyptych, 1927-31, Moscow, Russia, © Richard Pare, 2007.

The Sorry State of the State: Soviet Russian Avant-Garde Architecture

Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret), Pierre Jeanneret, and Nikolai Kolli, Centrosoyuz Building, detail, 1929-36, Moscow, Russia, © Richard Pare, 2007.

Ilia Golosov, Zuev Workers Club, 1926, Moscow, Russia, © Richard Pare, 2007.

Konstantin Melnikov with V.I. Kurochkin, Gosplan Garage, 1936, Moscow, Russia, © Richard Pare, 2007.

Sergei Serafimov, Mark Felger, and Samuil Kravets, Gosprom Building, detail, 1929, Kharkov, Ukraine, © Richard Pare, 2007.

Vladimir Shukhov, Shabolovka Radio Tower, 1922, Moscow, Russia, © Richard Pare, 2007.

 

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
Between Fifth and Sixth avenues
212-708-9400
New York
Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Galleries, Third floor
Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture, 1922-32
July 18-October 29, 2007

Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture, 1922-32 is an exhibition of contemporary photography that captures striking avant-garde structures built in the former Soviet Union during the 1920s and early 1930s, many of which are now severely dilapidated, and others of which are threatened with demolition. The exhibition highlights some 75 photographs by architectural photographer Richard Pare, who worked from 1993 to the present, making eight extensive trips to the region and creating nearly 10,000 images to compile a timely documentation of these neglected modernist structures. Locations vary from Moscow and St. Petersburg to Kiev, Baku, Ivanovo, and Sochi, and buildings range from factories and administrative buildings to communal dwellings and workers’ clubs.

These pictures document a unique chapter in the history of Soviet architecture that began in the early 1920s, when the newly formed Soviet Union saw an unprecedented burst of artistic and architectural creativity and productivity, and which lasted until the mid-1930s, when Stalin's regime prohibited modern architecture in favor of monumental neo-classical buildings intended to express the power of the state.

Lost Vanguard is organized by Barry Bergdoll, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art, with guest curator Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.

Apart from a few iconic examples long famous in textbooks, the full extent of the architecture of this time was largely unknown until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The range of these images reveals that far from a period of paper experimentation, the Soviet avant-garde created a large legacy of actual building. Nor was this limited to Moscow; architecture spread the culture of revolution to all parts of the Soviet Union. Lost Vanguard also includes a selection of Russian architecture journals on loan from private collections — notably that of Stephen Garmey — which provide historical context and show pictures of iconic Russian modernist structures as they appeared when new.

Explains Mr. Bergdoll, “Pare’s photographs capture a lost heroic, political, and architectural experiment. Many images depict daring architectural innovations in dynamic interiors with bold ramps, dramatic cantilevers, and double-glazing systems, which are startlingly advanced for their time. The forms also speak of aspirations for a new collectivized society, with institutions giving rise to unprecedented designs, particularly in projects for workers’ clubs and collective housing.”

From structures made by international architects such as Le Corbusier’s Centrosoyuz (1929-36) in Moscow and Erich Mendelsohn’s Red Banner Textile Factory (1925-27) in St. Petersburg, to the Narkomfin Communal House by Moisei Ginzburg and Ignati Milinis (1930) and architect Konstantin Melnikov’s own house (1927-31) in Moscow, the buildings illustrated in this exhibition demonstrate the legacy of this forgotten Soviet modernist architecture.

Mr. Cohen adds, “The photographic expeditions that Richard Pare led make it possible to measure the effect of time on places whose creators intended to break with the past. The rusted steel, the scarified concrete, and the cracking paint captured by the lens of Richard Pare remain that way, beyond any melancholy, as if animated by this past life in its hopes as in its illusions.”

Moisei Ginzburg and Ignati Milinis, Narkomfin Communal House, detail, 1930, Moscow, Russia, © Richard Pare, 2007.

Erich Mendelsohn, Red Banner Textile Factory, 1925-37, St. Petersburg, Russia, © Richard Pare, 2007.

Semen Pen, Palace of the Press, detail, 1932, Baku, Azerbaijan, © Richard Pare, 2007.

 

Erich Mendelsohn, Red Banner Textile Factory, Interior view, detail, 1925-37, St. Petersburg, Russia, © Richard Pare, 2007.