March 01, 2005

Exhibitionism: Soviet Style

Moscow’s Exhibition of Economic Achievements (abbreviated VDNKh in Russian) was a showcase of everything the Soviet Union could be proud of, whether it really existed or not...

The utopian exhibition known as VDNKh was founded 65 years ago and initially called the Soviet Agricultural Exhibition. Nothing remains of the pavilions built in 1939 – most of them were temporary. But, judging by old photos, even the first exhibition was quite impressive. For instance, the Volga Pavilion consisted of a cascade (symbolizing the Volga), topped by a statue of legendary Civil War hero Vasily Chapayev, “on a rearing horse, with a raised sword.” During the reconstruction of the exhibition in 1954, many of the pavilions were recreated on their former sites. These buildings, which still stand today, roughly resemble their predecessors.

The post-war rebirth of the exhibition was grandiose indeed – Moscow was especially proud of the fact that the construction work needed, among other things, 50 million bricks, 37.5 tons of cement and seven million cubic feet of timber. The architecture of the complex was a perfection of kitsch, an inconceivable eclecticism in which the best achievements of high Renaissance were tossed into a single heap with the works of popular craftsmen. Still, even such kitsch was worthy of respect – from the lively gothic of the Uzbekistan pavilion to the glass cubes of “Building Materials.” (The transparent facing of the latter is reinforced with a skeleton of thin metal bars completely invisible from inside. Thus, it seems as if the building’s richly-decorated flat ceiling is genuinely suspended in mid-air.)

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