Open Access (free)
Design and material culture in Soviet Russia, 1960s–80s
Author: Yulia Karpova

The major part of this book project was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 700913.

This book is about two distinct but related professional cultures in late Soviet Russia that were concerned with material objects: industrial design and decorative art. The Russian avant-garde of the 1920s is broadly recognised to have been Russia’s first truly original contribution to world culture. In contrast, Soviet design of the post-war period is often dismissed as hackwork and plagiarism that resulted in a shabby world of commodities. This book identifies the second historical attempt at creating a powerful alternative to capitalist commodities in the Cold War era. It offers a new perspective on the history of Soviet material culture by focusing on the notion of the ‘comradely object’ as an agent of progressive social relations that state-sponsored Soviet design inherited from the avant-garde. It introduces a shared history of domestic objects, handmade as well as machine-made, mass-produced as well as unique, utilitarian as well as challenging the conventional notion of utility. Situated at the intersection of intellectual history, social history and material culture studies, this book elucidates the complexities and contradictions of Soviet design that echoed international tendencies of the late twentieth century. The book is addressed to design historians, art historians, scholars of material culture, historians of Russia and the USSR, as well as museum and gallery curators, artists and designers, and the broader public interested in modern aesthetics, art and design, and/or the legacy of socialist regimes.

Yulia Karpova

5 A new production culture and non-commodities After the two turns in Soviet material and visual culture – the Khrushchevera aesthetic turn and the mid-1960s anti-functionalist turn – Soviet material culture became a site of great plurality and diversity, otherwise rarely associated with the Brezhnev era. Whereas VNIITE theorists explored the possibilities of flexible and user-sensitive systemic designing, as the preceding chapter has discussed, the critics and practitioners of decorative art chose self-reflection as their foremost professional strategy. This

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Soviet things that talk
Yulia Karpova

Introduction: Soviet things that talk ‘A silent speech that things address to us every day in an artistic language is infinitely more convincing than dozens of lectures about aesthetic education, good taste, etc. To make this language of things contemporary and expressive is the exciting but difficult task of an artist.’1 This was how the Soviet art critic Nina Iaglova opened her article in the journal Decorative Art of the USSR in June 1961. Here, ‘things’ (veshchi, material objects) appear as active participants in people’s lives, as agents by virtue of being

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

‘applied art’ for pre-1965 objects, and ‘decorative art’ for what came after the mid-decade conceptual change. Variations of ‘simplicity’ While an ideal object of the Khrushchev era was honest, simple, mass-­ reproducible and affordable, it was not plain. An attentive look would KARPOVA 9781526139870 PRINT.indd 95 20/01/2020 11:10 96 Comradely objects reveal a degree of complexity. As art historian Galina Iakovleva argues, reducing objects to the basic functional elements, as was characteristic of the late 1950s and early 1960s, opened the possibility for focused

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

visibility.4 Within such a representative regime, the publication of the image gallery in Dekorativnoe Iskusstvo SSSR discussed above would have been unthinkable. Even the idea of a special journal just for decorative art would have been impossible. Dekorativnoe Iskusstvo SSSR did not exist until December 1957. Although the rhetoric and meanings of art criticism changed throughout the Stalin era, text always overshadowed visual imagery. For example, the article ‘Thirty-Five Years of Soviet Art’ by the president of the Soviet Academy of Arts Aleksandr Gerasimov, published

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

frustrated that specialists working on furniture, clothes, kitchenware, etc., randomly referred to their own work as ‘decorative’, ‘applied’, or ‘decorative-­applied’ art. He insisted that ‘decorative art’ was the term for decorative elements that have no practical use in themselves (such as decorative vases or wallpapers), while ‘applied art’ signified practically usable objects.20 The need for a clear differentiation gained urgency by the 1960s. Ivan Matsa (Macza János), an art critic of Hungarian origin with experience of the 1920s Hungarian avant-garde, published an

in Comradely objects
Steve Sohmer

proudly Carey wore this magnificent tribute, perhaps hung about his neck on a heavy gold chain. The gem is known to historians of decorative art as ‘the Hunsdon Onyx’ ( Figure 9 ). 57 The jewel is an oriental sardonyx 3.75 inches high by 3.25 inches wide, the upper face white, the lower brown. It represents the myth of Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda from

in Reading Shakespeare’s mind
Open Access (free)
Collecting contacts with Gabrielle Enthoven
Kate Dorney

). Furthermore, even in fine and decorative art studies, women collectors, as opposed to patrons, are rarely discussed. Charlotte Gere and Marina Vaizey’s Great Women Collectors (1999) is a rare exception. Enthoven now has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography because I was invited to contribute an entry on a subsequent curator of the collection, and pointed out that it seemed odd for the founder of the collection not to be included. References Baker, Michael (1985), Our Three Selves: The Life of Radclyffe Hall, London: Hamish Hamilton. Bratton, Jacky (2011

in Stage women, 1900–50
Yulia Karpova

attack. On the contrary, these consumer choices found understanding as a legitimate reaction to ‘the striving of a small group of design specialists to offer people, in a centralised manner, a ready and complete model of material environment’.85 Pereverzev’s text exemplifies an internal critique of VNIITE design policy and attitudes that unfolded simultaneously with the development of neodecorativism in decorative art. Both processes captured and responded to the growing popularity of antiques and rising anti-urban moods among Soviet intellectuals that were reflected

in Comradely objects