Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution
Time Out says
‘The streets shall be our brushes, the squares our palettes,’ said the Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky in 1918, a year after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. And with the idea of the nation as a blank canvas in mind, this exhibition – one of several shows about revolutionary Russia in this centennial year – looks at six unrealised architectural projects. Some are what you’d expect (a ministry building). Some are not (a Black Sea health resort).
The visions are bold; the approaches avant-garde. What’s really exciting is that oh-so-radical sense that anybody could work across a number of fields at once. El Lissitzy trained in fine art but also conceived a series of megalithic skyscrapers for Moscow’s Boulevard Ring; Vladimir Tatlin happily flitted between designing monuments and experimental gliders. All very cool, until you dig deeper and realise the purpose of all this stuff was to brainwash an entire population about the merits of communism. Exhibits like artillery shells containing propaganda – blasted into the USSR’s hard-to-reach corners – speak for themselves, as does Boris Iofan’s Palace of the Soviets, which would have had a 100-metre statue of Lenin at its summit. (Hilariously, there’s a 1:1 scale replica of a finger here, so you get the idea.) A cathedral was demolished to make way for this: religion replaced by the cult of personality.
This is the Design Museum, so it’s all slickly delivered, with vinyl graphics and freestanding lightboxes. One thing that feels skirted around is why these projects never saw the light of day. That’s probably because the reasons are complex (resources, squabbling, World War II), and anyway, we all know how Soviet Russia turned out. More importantly – at a time when communist architecture has become a worryingly comfy subject of coffee-table books – it’s a reminder that design has the power to remould society. For better or for worse.