The Russian Avant-garde. Dreaming the Future Through Art and Design

Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum hosts the most comprehensive exhibition in Turkey sponsored by Sabancı Holding featuring Russian Avant-garde which shaped the art world in the 20th century.

Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum opens the exhibition ‘Dreaming the Future. Russian Avant-garde Art and Design’ sponsored by Sabancı Holding on 18 October 2018, open until 1 April 2019, featuring a comprehensive anthology of the Russian Avant-Garde.

The exhibition is co-curated by Dr. Nazan Ölçer Head of Sakıp Sabancı Museum and Dr. Maria Tsantsanoglou, Head of the George Costakis Collection at State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, and besides the Costakis Collection it contains a selection of 513 works from Moscow’s All-Russian Museum of Decorative Arts and Multimedia Art Museum and works from leading private collections in Europe shown together for the first time thus shedding a light upon the important place Russian Avant-Garde occupied in the history of art.

Sakıp Sabancı Museum is a part of Sabancı University and this exhibition that focuses on one of the most exciting periods of 20th century art history aims to fulfil its academic mission by presenting the political strata behind the Russian Avant-garde in such a way as to provide a source. The exhibition represents the fertile productivity of the entire period and the activities of the artists and the schools that aimed to spread their art to every aspect of life with a selection including paintings, design, literature, film and theatre.

The ‘Dreaming the Future. Russian Avant-garde Art and Design’ exhibition does not only focus on the dramatic changes and radical developments that happened during first quarter of the 20th century and prepared the groundwork for intellectual and artistic progress, not just within the Russian artistic culture, but it is designed to hold a mirror to the effect on world art. The exhibition shows the Russian avant-garde artists that in the early 1900s tried to introduce art as a lifechanging power, the ground-breaking work of the artists in this period where the reformist atmosphere had been brought about by the October Revolution in 1917, and the social design they tried to put into practice supported by the new regime and also the wide boundaries of the future they dreamed of. The exciting technological developments and industrialisation that occurred in the early 20th century turned the avant-garde artists towards science and overcoming the boundaries of the earth, dreams of space reflected the beliefs the artists had in the future and this is very vividly reflected in the works displayed in this exhibition.

One of the world’s most important Russian Avant-Garde collections, the George Costakis Collection at Thessaloniki State Museum of Contemporary Art forms the basis of the ‘Dreaming the Future. Russian Avant-Garde Art and Design’ exhibition. The George Costakis Collection of Russian Avant-Garde collected with great passion by George Costakis and secured for future generations, contain works by important artists which are part of the exhibition including  Kazimir Malevich, the creator of art history’s iconic Black Square, Vladimir Tatlin, the pioneer of a new period of artistic theory where he obscured the boundaries between art and production, Alexander Rodchenko the courageous pioneer of photography, painting, sculpture and graphic art. Again, from the George Costakis Collection are works by representatives of the many female artist of the period such as Olga Rozanova whose work was based on interaction between text and depiction, Lyubov Popova who with her set designs contributed to the transformation of plays into the language of the theatre, and Natalia Goncharova who turned towards Russian folk art and undertook a determining role in Russian Avant-garde. The exhibition, ‘Dreaming the Future. Russian Avant-garde Art and Design’ is the first time the works of all the big names representing this turning point in 20th century art history come together in Turkey.

In the research into how the new art and society should be constructed, the applied artwork that reflect Russian Avant-Garde, which also consider Russian folk art, the collection of the examples of design covering all fields borrowed from Moscow All-Russian Museum of Decorative Arts show the scope of the ideals of the Russian Avant-Garde to reorganize life and the history of people’s relationship with art.

The large photo anthology of documentary character from Moscow Multimedia Art Museum, which also houses the photo archive of the great name of Russian Avant-Garde Alexander Rodchenko, shows the compatibility of the Russian Avant-Garde with new technology and opens a window to the private world of the artists.

The effect of the transformative cultural atmosphere of the Russian Avant-garde can also be seen in the magnificent constructions and re-animations. The model of the construction of Vladimir Tatlin’s air vehicle Letatlin, gives an indication of the breadth of Russian Avant-Garde artists’ dreams of transforming life. The foundations of the modern theatre are considered by many art historians to have been laid by the Russian Avant-Garde and the Russian Avant-Garde theatre stage has come alive through new productions in all its glory at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum.

During the exhibition, films, concerts, literary events and workshops for children and adults will also cover the different disciplines of Russian Avant-Garde in depth. A catalogue with articles about the Russian Avant-Garde written by esteemed art historians and specialists will accompany the exhibition.

Entry is 5 TL for students aged 14 and up during The Russian Avant Garde. Dreaming The Future Throught Art and Design.

Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935) Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1910-1911 Gouache on cardboard State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 140.78-46

Ivan Kliun (1873–1943) Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, 1910 Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper State Museum of Contemporary ArtCostakis Collection C549-15

Lyubov Popova (1889–1924) Study for Self-portrait, 1912 India ink on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection C54 recto/verso-649

Nadezhda Udaltsova (1886–1961) Violin, 1915 Oil on canvas State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 282.78-91

Lyubov Popova (1889–1924) Travelling Woman, 1915 Oil on canvas State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 177.78-2

Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935) Red Square, undated Gouache on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection C755-242

Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935) Black Rectangle, 1915 Oil on canvas State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection ATH80.10-178

Ilia Chashnik (1902–1929) Suprematist Cross, 1923 Oil on canvas State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 795.79-5

Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944)
Study for On White I, 1920 
Watercolour and Indian ink on paper
 Private Collection

Ivan Kliun (1873–1943) Non-objective Composition, early 1920s Watercolor and gouache on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 280.80-326

Ivan Kliun (1873–1943) Suprematist Composition, 1917 India ink and watercolor on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 75.78-204

Gustav Klucis (1895–1938) Dynamic city, 1919-1921 Oil, concrete and sand on wood State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 94.78 – 421

Ivan Kliun (1873–1943) Study for Suprematist Composition, 1916-1918 Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 255.80-787

Mikhail Plaksin (1898–1965) Planetary, 1922 Oil on canvas State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 174.78-1276

Ivan Kliun (1873–1943) Suprematist composition, 1918 Watercolor and gouache on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 177.80-205

Ivan Kliun (1873–1943) Suprematist Drawing, 1922 Watercolor and gouache on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 290.80-517

Lyubov Popova (1889–1924)
Spatial Force Construction, 1921
Oil and wood dust on plywood
State Museum of Contemporary Art
 Costakis Collection
175.78-9

Lyubov Popova (1889–1924) Spatial Force Construction, 1921 Oil and wood dust on plywood State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 179.78-86

Lyubov Popova (1889–1924) Composition, 1920 Watercolor and gouache on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 190.80-131

Alexander Rodchenko (1891–1956) The Clown Pierrot, 1919 Design sketch of a costume for a performance based on Alexei Gan’s play ‘We’. The production was never materialized. Ink, Pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 244.78-50

Lyubov Popova (1889–1924) Painterly Architectonics, 1918 Oil on canvas State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 178.78-105

Nikolai Suetin (1897–1954) Coffee Pot, 1923 Painted porcelain State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 1265

Nikolai Suetin (1897–1954) Inkwell, late 1920s Pencil and watercolor on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection ATH80.28-1267

Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944) Cup and Saucer (State Porcelain Factory, Petrograd), 1921 Painted porcelain State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 1268

Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944) Cup and Saucer (State Porcelain Factory, Petrograd), 1921 Painted porcelain State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection 1268

Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944) Cup and Saucer (State Porcelain Factory, Petrograd), 1923 Painted porcelain State Museum of Contemporary Art - Costakis Collection 1269

Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944) Cup and Saucer (State Porcelain Factory, Petrograd), 1923 Painted porcelain State Museum of Contemporary Art - Costakis Collection 1269

Nikolai Bordukov Decorative dish, 1930s. Porcelaine, overglaze print, overglaze painting, guilding All-Russian Decorative Art Museum ВМДПНИ КП-529/1

Nikolai Bordukov Decorative dish, 1930s. Porcelaine, overglaze print, overglaze painting, guilding All-Russian Decorative Art Museum ВМДПНИ КП-529/1

Alexander Rodchenko (1891–1956) Construction on White (Robots), 1920 Oil on plywood State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection

Gustav Klucis (1895–1938) Radio Orator, Agit stand with loudspeaker, No 1 & 2, 1922 Ink on paper State Museum of Contemporary Art Costakis Collection C671-377 (100.78 A, B)

Theater Stage The Magnificent Cuckold, 1922 Director: Vsevolod Meyerhold Stage Design / Costumes: Lyubov Popova

Henry Milner After Vladimir Tatlin, Letatlin, 2013 Ash, cork, leather, steel, calico, cotton webbing, ply and twine Collection GRAD, Gallery of Russian Art and Design

Ceramic Faience Textile Wood Lacquer Stone and Metal

Chess set, ‘Industry and Agriculture’

The set was produced at the Dmitrov Porcelain Factory after a model made in the early 1930s by Elizaveta Tripolskaya (1881-1958), who studied in St. Petersburg and Paris. As well as this chess set Tripolskaya designed a series of objects for the Dmitrov Porcelain Factory near Moscow in 1929-1933. The chess pieces are in the form of industrial and agricultural objects: electric turbines, gear wheels, water tower and silo, graphics, light bulbs, coal, piles of cables etc.

The subjects of the chess pieces and their complex composition shows that this set was produced in limited numbers for a short period (first half of the 1930s). The set is a rare example of Soviet plastic arts during the 1930s.

 

A set of baby beakers, ‘Baby's First Dishes’

Set of ten cups on a tray woven from willow bark designed for storing and carrying them. The cups were designed for use in children's nurseries by Alexei Sotnikov, a third year student at the Institute of Art and Technology in 1930-1931. He made the original model from earthenware and the set was later produced at the Dulyovsky Porcelain Factory. On the instructions of his teacher Vladimir Tatlin, Sotnikov based his design on natural forms and explored the properties of the material. The cups are easy to hold and do not break easily. When the metal lid is lifted a tongue is depressed and each cup has a teat that is not clearly visible. In form they resemble a mother's breast. The milk can be easily fed into the baby's mouth. The set of cups displayed here is a reconstruction made by the original artist for the 1978 Moscow-Paris exhibition.

Alexei Sotnikov (1904-1989): Famous Soviet ornamental figure maker, ceramic artist. He studied at the Institute of Art and Technology between 1928 and 1930. Together with his teacher Vladimir Tatlin, he introduced a new concept: that of using the material in a wider way to recreate forms from nature. For many years this concept was the basic of the artist's work at the Dulyovsky Porcelain Factory, which he joined in 1934. He made decorative and household objects, animal figures and statuettes.

 

Plate inscribed ‘Learn to Read and It Will Be Easier to Live’

In 1921 Gosizdat (the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic State Publishing House) ordered 150 tankards and 250 plates bearing the inscription ‘Sickle, Hammer and Book’ from the State Porcelain Factory, as gifts for delegates attending the Gosizdat staff congress. The Porcelain Factory produced a series of products based on drawings by the best artists. Among these the plates designed by Rudolf Vilde are outstanding. The compositions consist of Soviet state emblems (the hammer and sickle used by workers and peasants) combined with agitative slogans about achieving literacy for all in the shortest time.

Gosizdat was set up as part of the Narkompros (Public Educational Commissariat) in 1919 and during the 1920s mainly published political texts for agitative purposes and classics of Russian and world literature. It also included a department for the publication of textbooks in the native languages of regional populations in the USSR.

Rudolf Vilde (Vilde von Vildeman) (1868-1937): Designer, applied decorative artist. Vilde designed interiors, furniture, fabrics, silverware and glassware. In 1905 he joined the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg as a designer. The following year, in 1906, he was appointed head of the art and painting studios at the Imperial Porcelain and Glass Factories. He drew designs for glassware and painted decoration on porcelain. Following the October Revolution he worked as head of the graphic design studio (1917-1935). He drew scores of designs for porcelain ware with an agitative purpose. He was awarded a gold medal at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925.

 

Plate with a portrait of Anatoly Lunacharsky and the inscription ‘Overall Grammar is the Warranty of Happiness of Russia’

This popular portrait of Anatoly Lunacharsky is drawn in brown monochrome. The range of shades suggests that it was based on a newspaper photograph. Both portrait and decorative motifs are the work of Alisa Golenkina, one of the first artists to draw portraits for porcelain ware at the State Porcelain Factory. Golenkina also drew a portrait of Lenin based on a newspaper photograph in 1920. The choice of slogan inscribed next to the portrait of Lunacharsky on this plate is no coincidence. At the end of 1919 a statute was passed announcing a literacy campaign and in 1920 an extraordinary commission was set up to organize the campaign. During the 1920s and 1930s the commission ran literacy courses for the illiterate and those with low literacy skills. People's Commissioner Anatoly Lunacharsky was head of this commission.

Alisa Golenkina (1892-1973): Applied decorative artist, graphic designer, porcelain painter. She jointed the State Porcelain Factory in 1919 and worked there intermittently until 1924. Her most celebrated works are her ‘Red Genius’ plate, and plates with portraits of notable statesmen and artists (Vladimir Lenin, Anatoly Lunacharsky, Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky).

Anatoly Lunacharsky (1875-1933): Soviet statesman, writer, translator, critic, art researcher. He was an active participant in the 1905-1907 revolution and the 1917 October Revolution. Between October 1917 and September 1929 he served as the first Public Education Commissioner for the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Lunacharsky was an ardent defender of the country's historical and cultural heritage during the first months after the Revolution, and made major contributions to the formation and development of socialist culture (particularly the Soviet educational system, publishing activities, theatre and cinema).

Pair of plates, ‘Zeppelins and Aircraft over Moscow’

In the 1920s Soviet Russia, like many European countries, was experimenting with constructing zeppelins with various different designs and carrying out trial flights. Zeppelins were used for passenger transport as well as scientific and propaganda purposes. The paintings on these plates depict a real event in Moscow in 1932, when four zeppelins were flown over Red Square during a celebration in the city.

Nikolay Bordyukov (1889-?): Porcelain decorator. He gained experience in enamelling before joining the Dmitrov Porcelain Factory. He designed many compositions on contemporary themes in the 1930s.

Lidded crystal radio receiver

Radio broadcasts began in Russia on 25 October 1917, with Vladimir Lenin's historic message to ‘the citizens of Russia’ from the Aurora cruiser, which had been fitted with radio transmission equipment. From this message the whole world learned that Russia's provisional government had been toppled and the Soviets had taken control of the country.

Crystal radios are the simplest type of radio receiver. They contain crystals that rectify the signals and use them as their power source without any need for electrical power. A high antenna and earthing are necessary for good reception. Crystal radios were designed to pick up radio station broadcasts and these could only be heard through earphones.

Crystal radio cases were made of diverse materials. The example exhibited here is made of majolica and is in the form of a cylindrical jar. On the lid is the frequency indicator, tuning button and terminal socket.

The cases of radio receivers were decorated with slogans and propaganda images. In this case the image illustrates the capacity of the radio broadcast to be heard all around the world, from the tundra to the deserts of Africa and ‘From Java to the New World.’

Crystal radio receiver case

The images on the case represent the Soviet people. All of them are wearing earphones while listening to the radio. Each head is depicted in profile, so lending rhythm and continuity to the composition.

Crystal radio receiver case

The radio receiver case is decorated with two pictures with agitational themes. On one side a worker and peasant are shaking hands. Both figures represent the owners of the Soviet land: the working class and collective farmers. Beneath this scene is written ‘S.S.S.R.’ On the other side of the case is a woman listening to the radio through earphones and seated at a table on which is an alphabet book; images which represent the literacy campaign that was one of the most widespread initiatives of the young Soviet state and was in full swing during the 1920s.

When the Bolsheviks came to power two thirds of the country's population were illiterate. At the end of 1919 the government issued a statute proclaiming one of its principal political goals: teaching everyone between the ages of 8 to 50 to read and write in Russian or their native language, particularly workers in factories and collective farms. The statute ruled that literacy schools teaching reading, writing and arithmetic were to be established in every village and town.

Radios were vital tools in this educational programme. In 1928 the University for Workers and Peasants was set up to teach via radio. The goal of this unique institution was to ensure that the entire population learned to read and write, and to provide courses in other subjects through its various faculties: general education faculty, anti­religion faculty, cooperative faculty, pedagogy faculty and agricultural faculty. In 1929 several more radio universities were established: the Workers, Peasants, Communist and Komsomol universities. This new system greatly simplified the educational process, since radio broadcasts could be accessed in every street, every village and, increasingly, every house.

Female Sport Suit and Female Sport Overall

The new world and its new people needed a new approach, especially in clothes. Constructivist artists —Varvara Stepanova, her husband Alexander Rodchenko, their friend Lyubov Popova—were keen on creating a new type of clothes, prozodezhda, which included all types of working and sports clothes. According to the approach of Soviet power, sport was to become an important part of life of new Soviet people—a sort of leisure balancing work. This was a model of an ideal life in future. Female overalls and female sports suit were both created by Varvara Stepanova in 1924 and reconstructed in 1984 by a famous Soviet clothes designer Elena Khudyakova.

Varvara Fedorovna Stepanova (1894 - 1958): A bright representative of Constructivism, Varvara Stepanova made bold models of new clothes decisively rejecting previous trends. She exhibited at the ‘Fifth State Exhibition: From Impressionism to Non-Objective Art’ (1918-1919) and the ‘Tenth State Exhibition: Non-Objective Creation and Suprematism’ (1919) in Moscow. She participated in the ‘Exhibition of Four,’ Moscow (1920), with Kandinsky, Rodchenko, and Nikolai Sinezubov, as well as in the exhibition ‘5 x 5 = 25’, Moscow (1921) and also in the ‘First Russian Art Exhibition’ at the Galerie van Diemen in Berlin (1922). During the years 1917-1919 she wrote zaum poetry, while creating non-representational collages and calligraphy books. In 1918 she joined IZO NARKOMPROS, and during 1920-1923 she was an active member of the INKhUK. In 1922 she designed the costumes and sets for Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin’s Death of Tarelkin staged by Vsevolod Meyerhold, and worked on variations of mechanical, robot-like constructions of the human figure. She also designed sets for Vitalii Zhemchuzhyi’s Book Evening in 1924. In 1923-1924 she began working as textile designer together with Popova at the First State Textile Print Factory in Moscow. From 1923 to 1928 she was closely associated with the journal LEF and Novyi LEF, edited by Osip Brik and Vladimir Mayakovsky. She was a member of the Productivists group along with Rodchenko, Popova and Tatlin. Furthermore, she taught in the Textile Department of VKhUTEMAS from 1924 to 1925. In 1925 she participated in ‘l’Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes’ in Paris. From the mid-1920s on she focused on graphic design, typographic and poster design as well as on cinematography. In the 1930s she worked for several magazines including USSR in Construction. She started painting again in the late 1930s.

New Themes in Lacemaking

Following the October Revolution in 1917, all kinds of art including lacemaking went through a transformation in Russia. Craftsmen started producing works with new subjects, promoting a new way of life and new motifs appeared in lacemaking such as symbols of Soviet power and technical progress. However, even with those subjects, Russian lace stays as refined as before, with its delicate sketches and virtuoso execution. Russian insertion lace has always been known throughout the world and edges, braids of tablecloth, napkins and handkerchiefs were on demand both in Russia and abroad during the revolutionary years.

 

Both the braid and the edge of the dimensional lace ‘Aircrafts and Stars’ are made in Vologda, one of the most famous lace centres in Russia. The panel ‘Before and Now’ was created in another center for lacemaking Yelets, in southern Russia, 900 km away from Vologda.

Fabric and Costume Design

Natalia Kiseleva (1906-1961):

Natalia Kiseleva, designer of fabrics and sports and work clothing, was born into a peasant family in Samara and came to study in Moscow at the age of 17, in 1923. This highly talented young woman obtained three university diplomas: first graduating in pedagogy, then in art and finally in design from the Moscow Textile Institute, one of the leading design universities in the USSR. She studied with outstanding avant-garde painters and textile designers Alexandra Exter and Ludmila Mayakovskaya; both of whom had an extensive influence on Kiseleva’s art.

At the outset of her career Kiseleva created a series of textile design sketches for the ‘Red Rose’ fabric, inspired by the ideas of Suprematism and Cubism. Her geometric drawings were distinguished by unusual color schemes: monochrome colors matching in a subtle way and original compositions of local colors.

In the late 1920s and 1930s Kiseleva made textile designs reflecting features of new Soviet life – sport, industrialization, aviation, electrification, tourism, radio etc.  Stylized symbols of Soviet achievements were used on fabrics, sketches for which were displayed at exhibitions that inspired public discussion; helping to spread avant-garde ideas among the general public and to form new aesthetics in the country.

In this exhibition Kiseleva is represented by sketches for her fabric designs ‘Rowing’ and ‘Aviation’. The latter consists of repeating images of an airplane in different colors—red, blue and brown. A clear rhythm of generalized, expressive silhouettes, painted in local contrasting colors, renders perfectly the emotional tension of the time; creating, according to contemporary art critics, a ‘cheerful, firm and joyful composition’.

Kiseleva was well known as a talented designer of sports clothes, including garments for skiing, hiking and water sports. Eventually she was chosen as a designer of clothes for sports parades held in Moscow, at the heart of the young Soviet state. Natalia Kiseleva was also a famous designer of workers’ clothes. Her sketches for workers’ overalls are brilliant examples of this type of clothing. Kiseleva’s designs generally have distinctive geometrical forms and lines, often based on asymmetry, and remained within the European fashion trends. Her designs combine harmony and simplicity, beauty and functionality.

The ‘Tverskoi Boulevard’ Screen

Vladimir Golitchin (1902-1943), who belonged to one of Russia’s foremost aristocratic families, was an outstanding decorative and applied artist, illustrator and graphic artist, as well as a polar explorer and inventor. When he was not travelling he spent his time working in the studio of the painter Pyotr Konchalovsky in Moscow and visiting the ВХУТЕМАС (Advanced Art Technique Studios). During these years Golitchin engaged in productive cooperation with the Handicrafts Museum in Moscow, doing commissions for painted wooden objects. Characterised by unique artistic forms and decorated in the traditional Mezen painting style, these featured luminous and cleverly conceived agitative propaganda themes. In these works Golitchin demonstrated that he was a talented miniaturist who could convey the personalities of heroes with a few brush strokes.

Vladimir Golitchin’s works won many awards; including, for example, a gold medal at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Art held in Paris in 1925.

Box, 'Likbez in the North'

This work by Ivan Semyonov, one of Fedoskino’s leading artists, concerns the literacy campaign launched in small settlements in northern Russia. The miniature represents the Nenets, an indigenous people living in northern Russia, on the Eurasian shores of the Northern Ice Sea. A group of Nenets are gathered in a ring listening with keen interest to an inspiring talk. On the table is a bust of Vladimir Lenin, the primary organiser and leader of the 1917 October Revolution.

Likbez

Likbez was a mass literacy programme aimed at adults and young people in Soviet Russia who could not read and write. Until the 1917 revolution, literacy levels in the Russian Empire were extremely low. In 1919 the government ruled that everyone must learn to read and write in Russian or in their native language. The literacy course took several months and was held in special teaching facilities. As well as reading and writing, students were taught basic arithmetic and about the fundamental problems faced in founding the Soviet state; so these schools were also places where ideological propaganda was disseminated.

In 1930 primary education became obligatory for all children. This unique and widely encompassing social and educational programme was extremely successful. By 1936 almost forty million people had been taught to read and write, raising literacy in the 16-50 age group to nearly 90 per cent, and the first integrated educational system aimed at developing culture and science had been established.

Box, 'Industrial Landscapes' and 'Plant'

After the 1917 revolution and civil war of 1917-1922 Russia suffered a severe economic, social and political crisis. Restoring stability to the country required increasing production by establishing a large industrial sector and enabling the economy to catch up with the major world powers—all in a short time frame. In the process of founding an advanced industrial base, the Red Army would be equipped with modern weapons and military technologies, so strengthening the country’s defence capacity. In 1925 the government launched an industrialisation initiative, establishing more than nine thousand manufacturing plants in fifteen years. During this brief time the Soviet Union made progress that had taken the most developed countries of the world more than a century. The aeronautics and defence, energy, iron and steel and automotive industries were founded from scratch. By 1940 the USSR had become Europe’s largest and the world’s second largest industrial producer after the USA.

Industrialisation was reflected in architecture. ‘Soviet Constructivism’ emerged in the 1920s. As in industrial products, new forms and styles were applied in the field of architecture to factories, workshops, hydroelectric power plants and public buildings. These were a combination of diverse structures reminiscent of geometric figures (parallelograms, cubes, windows of different sizes and shapes).

Industrial landscapes depicted on boxes reflected not the beauty of nature but a series of entirely new and astonishing buildings: factories with smoking chimneys that operated for the happiness of the country. Factories were lent a festive atmosphere by the ordinary people who spent their working days engaged in heavy labour, making sacrifices for the sake of building a bright future. Compositions on boxes in the form of black silhouettes on a gilded ground were drawn in the minimalist style typical of constructivism, with strong shapes and lines.

Boy with Budyonovka

This figure of a Soviet primary school pupil encapsulates this era. The child is dressed in winter clothes, consisting of thick trousers tucked into boots, fingerless gloves, a short fur and a budyonovka made of canvas. The budyonovka was designed by professional artists as the official headdress of the Red Army and soon became highly popular among ordinary Soviet people.As well as the realism and fine detailing of the ornamental figure, it is distinguished by a plain cubic base with sharp horizontal and vertical stresses.Both the braid and the edge of the dimensional lace ‘Aircrafts and Stars’ are made in Vologda, one of the most famous lace centres in Russia. The panel ‘Before and Now’ was created in another center for lacemaking Yelets, in southern Russia, 900 km away from Vologda.

Tray: ‘Labor-Union is the School of Communism’

The tray's decoration is based on the contrast between dark and light coloured elements. Compositions of golden yellow wheatears (a symbol of fertility) and a five pointed star and sickle and hammer (state symbols) encircle a picture of celebrations marking the seventh anniversary of the establishment of the USSR.

In the area surrounded by decorative motifs is a picture of the Union Building that housed the soviet of Moscow trade unions after the revolution. Hanging on the front facade of the building are banners bearing inscriptions such as ‘Trade Unions: Schools of Communism’, and ‘Seventh Anniversary of the USSR’. Crowds of people in front of the building are watching the celebrations and fireworks.

Tray: ‘Peasant and Worker’

The decoration of this tray is clearly influenced by pictorial and iconic art, which are the primary elements of Russian avant-garde. The composition illustrates a political theme, that of the struggle between the oppressed classes (workers and serfs) and the oppressors (land owners). This is reflected in the writing on a banner that divides the composition into two equal parts, consisting of urban workers and villagers. At the centre of the picture a peasant and worker shake hands, symbolizing their unity and collective struggle.