Vkhutemas 100. School of Avante-Garde

Dates: November 10, 2020 — April 11, 2021
Location: Museum of Moscow, building 1, Red Hall

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Higher Art and Technical Studios (Vkhutemas) in Moscow – the country’s major creative institution, which defined the path of design education in Russia in the 20th century.

The Museum of Moscow prepared a large-scale exhibition “Vkhutemas 100. School of Avant-Garde”, which features this institute as the protagonist of modern art, design, architecture, textiles, and graphics. This is the first exhibition of its kind to show production and fine art faculties reflecting the artistic experimentation of the avant-garde era on such a scale.

Among the exhibits are paintings, drawings, sculptures, architectural projects, model reconstructions, industrial and graphic designs, porcelain, textiles, and furniture created by Vkhutemas students. The works were assembled from the collections of the Tretyakov Gallery, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, State Historical Museum, Shchusev State Museum of Architecture, and other institutions.

The first section of the exhibition is devoted to Vkhutemas’s prehistory and the reform of art education. The post-revolutionary years were a time of building a new state system, including education. In 1918, the Academy of Arts was abolished. The First Free State Art Studios, opened in Moscow in the fall of the same year and became a new institution for art education.

The second section discusses the Core Department and its disciplines: “Space”, “Volume”, “Graphics”, and “Color”. Studying these subjects was mandatory for students of all faculties during the first two years of study. The Core Department programs were at the heart of Vkhutemas and served as a platform for the most significant pedagogical experiments and teaching methods. This section of the exhibition will present architectural models, sculptures, drawings, and paintings. Visitors will learn about the teachers of these disciplines — artist and photographer Alexander Rodchenko, architect Nikolay Ladovsky, artist Lyubov Popova, and others.

In 1923, the course "Space" became part of the Core Department, making it mandatory for students of all faculties of Vkhutemas. The leadership of the course created by Ladovsky, passed on to his colleague Vladimir Krinsky and a group of their students, who became teachers. The rigourous curriculum and a system of exercises developed for the Space course not only enabled the training of student masses tapped but tapped into the then emerging domain of modern architecture.  Student work, produced as part of the “Space” course beginning in the early 1920s, was promptly received as a remarkable achievement of architectural avant-garde.

The visitors will see not only the orginal drawings and photographs of the student projects but will be able to experience the physical models originally produced as part of the course “Space” in the form of full-scale reconstructions (created specifically for the exhibition).

A significant part of the exhibition is devoted to the production faculties, each occupying its own hall: Printing Arts, Textiles, Ceramics, and Woodworking and Metalworking. In this part of the exhibition, visitors will learn about typeface design at Vkhutemas and the principles of Favorsky’s graphic school, discover why textile designers studied technical disciplines and how ceramics became an instrument of propaganda. Visitors will get acquainted with the best  examples of furniture and light fixtures with transformable elements and innovative comprehensive solutions for public and residential interiors designed by Vkhutemas students.

The exhibition is meant to explain this. Many viewers associate the printing arts of the revolutionary  era with the catchy Constructivism found in the advertisement posters by Rodchenko and Mayakovsky. But the 1920s world of typography and typeface was more complex and intriguing. Progressive lithographs by Nikolay Kupreyanov’s students, in-depth course projects of the Woodcut department under the guidance of Nikolay Piskarev, and the mischievous and powerful works by Alexander Rodchenko’s students — Anastasia Akhtyrko, the Chichagova sisters, and other members of the informal student association “The Magnificent Five of Vkhutemas” — will help the viewers understand it.   

The opposite halls present Architecture Faculty, Sculpture Faculty, and Painting Faculty. Visitors of the exhibition will see how the opposition between the academic school and avant-garde design methods at the Architecture Faculty was expressed. They will learn what materials Vkhutemas sculpture students used and how the painting students searched for a new visual language, as well as what artistic associations existed at Vkhutemas and how graduates and students participated in the design of processions and campaign events.

Needless to say, the Vkhutemas Architecture Faculty was ahead of its time. At the center of the exhibit. the “Flying City” by Georgy Krutikov is depicted soaring in outer space. Visitors will also see the concept of a new city programmable by mathematical algorithms and a resort  hidden in nature and will find out where in Moscow a whole city block was based on a Vkhutemas student project.

Similarly to the Woodworking and Metalworking Faculty,  no three-dimensional materials of the Architecture Faculty survived and the student projects remained solely in drawings and photographs. For the first time, the exhibition presents a selection of reconstructed models of the Vkhutemas diplomas.   

The Final Section of the exhibition will be devoted to the dissolution of the institution and the fates of its faculties as they were assimilated into other educational institutions or reorganized as independent institutions, such as the Polygraphic Institute, School of Industrial Arts, Moscow Architectural Institute, Textile Institute, and others”.

Curator: Alexandra Selivanova

Exhibition Design: Architectural bureau “Novoe”

Research Consultant: L.I. Ivanova-Veen, director of the Museum of the Moscow Architectural Institute

Section Curators:
Printing Faculty — Rustam Gabbasov
Graphic Faculty — Nadia Plungian
Sculpture Faculty, Discipline “Volume” — Maria Silina
Textiles Faculty, Ceramics Faculty — Ksenia Guseva
Woodworking and Metalworking Faculty — Alyona Sokolnikova
Architecture Faculty — Anna Bokov, Ilya Lapin
Discipline “Color” — Daria Sorokina
Discipline “Space” — Anna Bokov, Stas Gromik
Discipline “Graphics” — Rustam Gabbasov

Partners and participants:

  • Tretyakov Gallery
  • Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
  • State Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia
  • State Historical Museum
  • Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts
  • Shchusev State Museum of Architecture
  • All-Russian Decorative Art Museum
  • Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve
  • Moscow Architectural Institute (State Academy)
  • Institute of Arts of the Russian State University named after A.N. Kosygin (Technologies. Design. Art)
  • Moscow State University of Printing Arts (Higher School of Printing and Media Industry)
  • Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts
  • Russian State Library
  • State Museum of the History of Russian Literature named after V.I. Dal (State Literature Museum)
  • Krasnoarmeysk Gallery
  • Mayakovsky State Museum
  • Moscow Museum of Modern Art
  • Moscow State Integrated Art and Historical Architectural and Natural Landscape Museum-Reserve
  • Museum of Ivanovo Chintz (department of the Ivanovo State Museum of Local History named after D.G. Burylin)
  • Textile Institute of the Russian State University named after A.N. Kosygin (Technologies. Design. Art)
  • Nekrasov Central Universal Science Library
  • Central Scientific and Technical Library for Construction and Architecture
  • Russian Academy of Arts
  • Galeyev Gallery
  • Nikolay Abakumtsev Museum-Workshop
  • British Higher School of Art and Design
  • Institute for the Humanities and Information Technologies
  • Institute of Business and Design
  • Workshop TAF (Theater of Architectural Form)
  • Moscow Architecture School MARCH
  • School of Design of the Russian Presedential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration
  • Vladimir Kirpichev School-Studio EDAS
  • Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union