Photo by Richard Pare
Construir la Revolución
To anyone familiar with the concrete bunker-like structures that came to be associated with Soviet architecture before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the idea of visiting a museum exhibition devoted to the genre might be greeted with a big yawn.
But the surprise at CaixaForum is that in the early days of Communist Russia some of the world’s finest Modernist architects were at work bringing a kind of geometric grace to Russian cities, as part of an effort to sell the new ideology to the people of Russia, and by extension, to the rest of the world.
The civil war touched off with the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 which left the country impoverished and seeking to re-identify itself. Lenin’s political machine coupled both agricultural and urban planning with the best architectural talents available. The resulting examples of built culture in Russia were sometimes astonishing, when entrusted to the able hands of such architecture stars as Le Corbusier of Paris and Erich Mendelsohn of Berlin. It also allowed anonymous architects to create modest work spaces, such as bakeries of unsurpassed geometric beauty for the encouragement of women in the workforce. And while strict formal guidelines were enforced, the occasional eccentric artist such as Konstantin Melnikov would slip through the official cracks; his cylindrical Moscow house and studio (1927-31), perforated by hexagonal windows, is a highlight of the exhibition.
Many of the buildings are currently in an advanced state of decay, and their condition has been captured by photographer Richard Pare. His luscious architectural photographs, which ring the large gallery, were taken primarily during the Nineties; in one of them, the interior of Lenin’s Tomb in Red Square (the third structure built by Aleksei Shchusev to house the bones of the founder of Russian Communism) appears to glow like an appropriately red altar.
The photographs and building plans are complemented by fine examples of Russian Constructivist art from the Costaki Collection in Thessalonica, Greece, suspended by taut wires in the central space of one of CaixaForum’s largest galleries. In these drawings and paintings by such Avant-garde masters as El Lissitzky, Malevich and Popova, architecture and art appear as one.