Skip to content
The Globe at Moscow Telegraph

Arkady Shaikhet (1898-1959)
Construction of the Globe at the Moscow Telegraph, 1928
Vintage gelatin silver print
Date in pencil and title in pen in Russian on verso
Photographer's stamp and signature on verso
9 7/16 x 7 in. (24.0 x 17.8 cm)

Shaikhet heroically portrays two workers constructing the revolving glass globe that decorated the facade of the Central Telegraph Building in Moscow. Shaikhet’s photograph both documents the changing realities of Moscow in the 1920s and conveys a forceful message about the Soviet Union’s new global position. The workers literally construct the telegraph building, thereby enabling new forms of rapid international communication and asserting a socialist framework in global politics. As a defining member of the Soviet avant-garde, Shaikhet employed a Constructivist visual language to capture this image — as evident in the tight framing and sharp contrasts of light and dark to celebrate the industrial and architectural form.

As a symbol of Soviet modernity, this photograph became a powerful tool for Constructivist artists of the era. Most notably, El Lissitzky incorporated the photograph into his 1930 photomontage for the International Hygiene Exhibition, Dresden, in which the globe is superimposed onto the body of a factory worker.

guard, shukov tower

Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956)
Guard, Shukhov Tower, 1929
Gelatin silver print, printed in 1992
Rodchenko/Stepanova Archives stamp on verso
Image and paper 9 1/2 x 6 1/2 in. (24.1 x 16.5 cm)

Rodchenko captures a guard standing watch at the famous Shukhov Tower, a broadcasting tower built in 1920-22 and designed by pioneering engineer, scientist, and architect Vladimir Shukhov (1853-1939). In addition to inventing new techniques for the structural engineering of reservoirs, pipelines, and ships, Shukhov also designed the first hyperboloid structures, which are built from a single lattice of beams that curve inward in order to support an object at a great height; and the first diagrid structures, which use a diagonally intersecting framework of beams. The Shukhov Tower was a groundbreaking example of the use of these techniques, both of which Rodchenko illustrates in his photograph: the innovative diagonals of the metal lattice criss-cross the frame behind the guard, while the curving hyperbolic beams curve across the image. The dark, sturdy figure of the guard stands in contrast to the light, delicate structure he oversees. Like Ignatovich in his photograph of another groundbreaking building designed by Shukov, the Bakhmet'ev Garage (visible at this link), Rodchenko composed this image at an angle, drawing attention to the inventiveness of the new design and and allowing it to recede into the corner of the image, emphasizing its height.

Bakhme'ev Garage, 1933

Boris Ignatovich (1899-1976)
Bakhmet'ev Garage, 1933
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Photographer’s stamp on verso
15 3/4 x 10 1/2 in. (40 x 26.8 cm)

Boris Ignatovich’s striking photograph shows the roof of the famous Bakhmet’ev garage, designed in 1926 by Vladimir Shukov, who also designed the steel diagrid Shukhov Tower featured in Rodchenko’s 1929 photograph (please click here to view this image); and by Konstantin Melnikov. The building was considered a revolutionary work of avant-garde architecture, and is characterized by high, vaulted ceilings; sharp, clean angles; a parallelogram-shaped floorpan; and an innovative combination of windows that were styled either large and round or long and vertical. While the building did house buses, it also included workshops and offices. Ignatovich captures the daring shape of the building by positioning himself on the roof and composing his image at an angle, lending rhythm and dynamism to the repeating slats of the roof and the shadows they cast below. In 2007-8, the garage was restored and reopened as the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, also known as the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. Today, the garage houses the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.

house of mosselprom

Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956)
House of Mosselprom, 1925
Gelatin silver print, printed in 1992
Rodchenko/Stepanova Archives stamp on verso
Image and paper 9 5/8 x 6 7/8 in. (24.4 x 17.5 cm)

When it was built in 1923-24, the Mosselprom building, designed by architect David Kogan (1884-1954), was one of the tallest buildings in Moscow. Rodchenko not only photographed the façade, but also painted the panels shown here with his wife Varvara Stepanova. The building housed offices and storage space for Mosselprom — also known as the Moscow Association of Enterprises Processing Agro-Industrial Products, or the Moscow Rural Cooperative Administration — an organization which included flour and chocolate factories, breweries, and other companies. Since this photograph was taken, the building has been expanded and restored; today, it is considered a landmark of Constructivist architecture and houses a branch of the Russian Institute of Theatre Arts. Rodchenko’s photograph showcases his painted panels as well as the bold shapes and large, expressive lettering that advertised the cooperative and its wares. His tight vertical composition allows the building to almost entirely fill the frame, drawing attention to its breadth and height as it towers over the passers-by below.


Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956)
Balconies, 1925
Gelatin silver print, printed in 1992
Rodchenko/Stepanova Archives stamp on verso
Image and paper 9 1/2 x 5 in. (24.1 x 12.7 cm)

Balconies is one of Rodchenko’s earliest photographs, made just a year after the artist had given up painting and begun to explore photography and photomontage. The image contains some of the most striking hallmarks of Rodchenko’s style, and indeed of the Constructivist photography more broadly: diagonal perspective, with the photograph shot at a daring angle, almost directly upwards from the street; an emphasis on rhythm and repetition, exemplified here in the reiterative figure of the balconies receding into the distance; and a radical composition, in this case a tight, narrow vertical cropping that highlights the height of the building and its balconies relative to Myasnitskaya Street, where the building was located. Rodchenko’s subject, too, appears to show many of the distinctive features of Constructivist architecture: straight lines and strong, bold shapes, with an emphasis on the unity of form and purpose and the repudiation of unnecessary ornament.

This image was featured on the cover of the first issue of the journal LEF (Left Front of the Arts) in 1927.

floors, 1929

Boris Ignatovich (1899-1976)
Floors, 1933
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1960s by photographer
Title and date in Cyrillic in pencil on verso
Photographer's stamp on verso
9 1/2 x 6 1/4 in. (24 x 16 cm)

This photograph shows the famous staircase in the public services building of the Communal House of the Textile Institute, an experimental student dormitory built by the architect Ivan Nikolaev in 1929-1931. The building is considered a landmark of Soviet architecture; the design is famous for reducing individual students’ living space to the absolute minimum (Nikolaev’s original design included 2x2 meter sleeping areas with no windows) and instead maximizing common areas such as libraries, cafeterias, and staircases. The “staircase” in this image was considered radical not only due to its unusual triangular shape, but also because it uses gradual ramps instead of steps — a style that was also favored by Le Corbusier, and one that can now be found most prominently at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Ignatovich captures both the shape and the style of the staircase in this photograph, which communicates the seamlessness with which students could transition from one floor to the next; as well as the great number of floors and the spaciousness of the walkways. Also at play in this image is an expressive range of tones, which highlights the smooth, even surfaces of the freshly constructed building, as well as the depth of the stairwell.

Shaikhet_From Downstairs, New Apartments at the Usachevka Housing Complex, Moscow

Arkady Shaikhet (1898-1959)
From Downstairs, New Apartments at the Usachevka Housing Complex, Moscow, 1928
Gelatin silver print

This photograph, which complements Shaikhet's From Upstairs, New Apartments at the Usachevka Housing Complex, Moscow, 1928 (visible at this link), shows a distinctly different staircase in the famous Constructivist Usachevka housing complex from a low instead of high vantage point. The staircase spirals away in a curving shape, unlike the angular staircase in From Upstairs; again, the long depth of field highlights the great height of the newly constructed residential building. A resident appears to pass by on a nearby landing at the bottom of the frame, while another figure appears three stories up, perhaps looking down at the camera; their shapes are a deep black against the artificial lighting of the twisting stairwell. The result is a dramatic scene that is not only descriptive of the novel architectural style of Usachevka, but also suggestive of the life of the residents who were beginning to populate the building. A print of this photograph was included in landmark 2015-16 exhibition The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film at the Jewish Museum in New York. A print of this photograph can also be found in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Shaikhet_New Apartments, 1928

Arkady Shaikhet (1898-1959)
From Upstairs, New Apartments at the Usachevka Housing Complex, Moscow, 1928
Gelatin silver print

This photograph shows an interior stairwell in the famous Constructivist Usachevka housing complex, a group of six residential buildings on the street Usachyov in Moscow. The complex was built in the shape of a trapezoid and included a plaza with flower beds, a fountain, and a statue of Lenin. While a large number of residential buildings in Moscow from the Constructivist era have been marked for demolition in recent years, Usachevka, as well as the Dubrovka housing complex, have been preserved due to their architectural and cultural significance. Shaikhet captured interior stairwells in the complex both from above, in this photograph, and from below (click here to see From Downstairs, New Apartments at the Usachevka Housing Complex, Moscow, 1928). His use of a long depth of field allows him to draw the viewer’s eye down into the stairwell, highlighting the building’s height, spaciousness, and bold, uninterrupted geometric shapes. A mother and child are poised at the top of one landing, looking down in the same pose as the photographer and the viewer; their presence suggests the new possibilities offered to Moscow residents by the exciting developments in architecture and housing that were taking place in the city.

This image was featured on the cover of Ogonyek magazine in 1928. 

View from Maxim Gorky Airplane, Kharkov, 1930

Georgy Petrusov (1903-1971)
View from Airplane (the Derzhprom), Kharkov, 1930
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1950s
Title in felt-tip pen in Cyrillic on verso
Photographer's name in pencil in Cyrillic on verso
8 1/8 x 5 1/2 in. (20.6 x 14.0 cm)

The 1930s in Russia were a time of great experimentation for photographers not only with respect to style and composition, but also with respect to how and where photographs could be made. The decade saw the advent of aerial photography, with artists such as Boris Ignatovich and George Petrusov capturing the cities of Moscow and Kharkov, respectively, from the air for the very first time. In this photograph, his altitude enables him to emphasize the great height of the famous Derzhprom building complex, also known as Gosprom or the House of State Industry, in Kharkov in present-day Ukraine.

The Derzhprom was an astonishing accomplishment in the 1930s — a symmetrical complex of concrete and glass towers ranging up to ten stories in height and connected by skybridges, one of which is visible at left in Petrusov’s photograph. Petrusov’s use of bright sunlight and deep shadows creates the sharp lines and strong geometric shapes that are hallmarks of Constructivism and are particularly suited to the architectural rigor and uniformity of the complex. These buildings are considered Europe’s first skyscrapers and, in their rigid and angular style, are sometimes seen as an early precursor to Brutalist architecture. Architecture writer Owen Hatherley describes the Derzhprom in The Guardian as “arguably the most interesting – and one of the least known – buildings of the ‘heroic age’ of modern architecture in the interwar years…No building in the former Soviet Union expresses so vividly the undercurrents of utopian socialism and Americanised modernism that ran through the Communist revolution’s early years.”

Monument to Ferdinand Lassalle, 1930

Boris Ignatovich (1899-1976)
Monument to Ferdinand Lassalle, 1930
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1960s by photographer
Title, date and photographer's name in Cyrillic in pencil on verso
Photographer's stamp on verso
9 1/2 x 6 1/4 in. (24.1 x 15.9 cm)

With its extreme low perspective, flattened form, and sharp angles, Boris Ignatovich’s photograph Monument to Ferdinand Lassalle resembles a photomontage and epitomizes the strong geometric style of Constructivism. Ignatovich’s subject is a granite monument to Prussian-German philosopher and socialist activist Ferdinand Lassalle, located on Nevsky Prospect in Leningrad and created by the sculptor V. A. Sinaysky (1898-1968); today, the monument can be found in the State Museum of Urban Sculpture. Behind the statue is a tall Italianate clocktower designed by the sculptor Giacomo Ferrari and completed in 1804 as part of the City Duma. The tower still stands today. With its neoclassical columns and ornamental moulding, it appears in this photograph as a striking reminder of the neoclassical architecture that was soon to be overtaken by Stalinist Empire buildings.

izvestia, moscow

Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956)
Izvestia, Moscow, 1932
Gelatin silver print
Signed and dated in pen in Russian on verso
Photographer's stamp on verso
6 5/8 x 3 3/4 in. (17 x 9.5 cm)

The headquarters of the daily newspaper Izvestia were built on Pushkin Square in 1927, timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. The architects were Grigori Barkhin and his brother Mikhail, who originally conceived of the building as a skyscraper. Shortages of materials and height limitations imposed by the city forced them to remove several stories from the design; nevertheless, Rodchenko’s vertical framing draws attention to the still considerable height of the building. In addition, the unexpected oblique angle of the image not only conveys the towering nature of the building, but also gives a sense of movement and of the rapid changes taking place in the city; this feeling is further bolstered by the inclusion of a passing streetcar in the lower right corner of the image. Rodchenko’s image highlights the strong Constructivist shapes of the large windows and balconies; included at left is a neoclassical building whose more ornate features are in stark contrast to the newspaper’s avant-garde headquarters.

As architect and scholar Catherine Cooke wrote of the building in her book Architectural Drawings of the Russian Avant-Garde (MOMA, 1990), “Even as finally constructed, the building, with its smooth surfaces and boldly expressed frame, rose above the two- and three-storied Classical vernacular of Moscow as a symbol of the new age that powerfully expressed the dream of urbanism they fostered.”

In the sublunary world

Boris Ignatovich (1899-1976)
In the Sublunary World, 1937
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1960s
Title and date in pencil in Russian on verso
Photographer’s stamp on verso
9 5/8 x 6 3/8 in. (24.3 x 16.1 cm)

Ignatovich’s 1937 photograph shows one of the striking glass-fronted arms of the Maxim Gorky Drama Theater in Rostov-on-Don, which had been completed just two years earlier and was designed by the prominent architects Vladimir Schuko and Vladimir Gelfreykh. As journalist Maria Pogrebnyak writes in The Calvert Journal, the theatre “is a powerful manifestation of the 20th-century avant-garde, and is widely considered one of the greatest masterpieces of the Constructivist style, hailed as the jewel in the crown of Soviet architecture by Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer.” The architects famously designed the building around the shape of a Soviet tractor, with long arms along either side and an elevated central structure. Ignatovich, however, chose not to capture a conventional shot of the full building, but instead to focus on a single arm, employing a vertical composition to emphasize the height of the building and drawing the viewer’s attention to the bold rectangular shapes of the building and the curve of one of the driveways, where the nose of a descending car is visible.

Ignatovich's title, In the Sublunary World, playfully suggests that the streetlamp above resembles the moon, and communicates the futuristic and almost cosmic feeling engendered by the scene of a young family dressed in white in front of the innovative construction.

Building of the Council of Ministers

Yakov Khalip (1908-1980)
Building of the Council of Ministers in Construction, 1934
Vintage gelatin silver print, print c. 1935
Label of the Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries on verso
On the label: J. Halip and title: House of "Council of Labour and Defence"
Title in Cyrillic in pencil "Zdanie Soveta Ministrov Stroitsa (Building of the Council of Ministers in Construction)"
Photographer's name in pencil and date 1935 on verso
15 1/2 x 10 7/8 in. (39.4 x 27.6 cm)

This photograph shows the building that is now the State Duma, or the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, located in Central Moscow. In 1934, the year Khalip took this photograph, the building was just two years from completion and was the planned headquarters of the Council of People’s Commissars (later known as the Council of Ministers). The architect was Arkady Langman (1886-1968), who also designed the massive Central Dynamo Stadium in north Moscow.

The entire left side of the building appears to be covered in a large decorative installation. At the top, there is a large sign that reads MOSKA-VOLGA, indicating the Moscow-Volga Canal, which was built from 1932 to 1937 and was originally intended to be completed in 1934, the year the photograph was taken; while at the bottom there are structures in the street that appear to be miniature locks. Next to this installation is a dark cloth covering the middle section of the façade. While it is not clearly visible in this image, on the cloth is painted a gigantic figure of Stalin.

As architectural historian William Craft Brumfield writes in Landmarks of Russian Architecture (Gordon and Branch, 1997), “The council building is of relatively low height—ten stories—in relation to the length of its facade, and this horizontality is massively confirmed by the unadorned cornice that caps the building and from which rises a low attic. The vertical pylons that segment the facade convey the impression of a barred surface, and for both its supporters and detractors the building has represented the epitome of the centralized and seemingly omnipotent administrative culture.”

palace of the soviets station

Ivan Shagin (1904-1982)
Palace of the Soviets station, c. 1935
Vintage gelatin silver print
Image 7 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. (19.1 x 28.6 cm)

The Palace of the Soviets station opened in May 1935 and was designed to serve a mammoth congress hall and skyscraper called the Palace of the Soviets. As a result, this station was the grandest and most elegant on the first line. The station was one of the first projects designed by the architect Alexey Dushkin (1904-1977), who also designed four additional stations in the late 1930s, including the Mayakovskaya Station in 1938 (visible here in a photograph attributed to the Hannes Meyer Brigade). Along with his partner Yakov Lichtenberg, Dushkin created a plan for the station that was inspired by the lighting of Egyptian Temple of Amun at Karnak, with marble-clad columns lit from their star-shaped capitals like oil lamps. The floors of the station are patterned in gray and red granite squares. In this photograph, Shagin has captured not only the station’s innovative design, drawing attention to the columns and their lit capitals; but also its functionality, from the wide, open platform to the swiftly approaching train. Dushkin received a Stalin Prize for this design, as well as Grand Prix awards at the International Exhibition in 1937 in Paris and at the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1958.

Construction of the Palace of the Soviets project was halted by WWII, and ultimately canceled in 1953. In 1957, this station was renamed after Peter Kropotkin, a geographer and philosopher who was born in the neighborhood. Kropotkinskaya station is extremely important historically, as it remains the only aspect of the Palace of the Soviets project that was completed.

Okhotny Ryad Metro, Moscow, 1936

Yakov Khalip (1908-1980)
Okhotny Ryad Metro, Moscow, 1936
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1950s
Photographer's name in Russian on verso
Title and 1935 date in Cyrillic on verso
Borodulin stamp on verso
14 3/4 x 10 3/4 in. (37.5 x 27.3 cm)

In this photograph, Khalip captures the newly constructed Okhotny Ryad Metro Station, which opened in 1935 as part of the first phase of the construction of the Moscow Metro and was, at the time, the largest underground station in the world. The station was located between the monumental Hotel Moskva, which had been constructed that same year with the participation of some of the most accomplished artists in the USSR; and the State Duma, which would be completed in 1937 and was also photographed by Khalip (please click here to view the photograph). As a result, the construction of the station was extremely challenging, and in the end engineers constructed the walls off-site and then placed them fully built onto the construction site. From his perch above the station — perhaps from a balustrade of the Hotel Moskva — Khalip communicates this sense of closeness and density in the increasingly populated and developing city; the composition of the image excludes the horizon, such that the frame is filled completely with buildings, from the neoclassical Bolshoi Theater behind the station to the crowded streets in the distance. Also visible in Khalip’s image are two passing trams, which were the dominant mode of transportation before the construction of the Metro.

Due to its size, unusual depth, and central location, Okhotny Ryad was known as the “heart” of the Moscow Metro system. This photograph was reproduced in Varvara Stepanova and Aleksandr Rodchenko’s 1938 book Moskva Rekonstruiruetsia (Moscow Under Reconstruction), which included photographs of the newly constructed Metro stations that were redefining the city. 

USSR in Construction 1935


The Moscow Metro Issue

Design by Nikolai Troshin, Author Viktor Shklovsky, Photographs by Georgy Petrusov

View of Okhotny Ryad Metro Station, Spread detail

Dzerzhinskaya station

Attributed to the Hannes Meyer (1889-1954) Brigade
Dzerzhinskaya station, c. 1935
Vintage gelatin silver print
Image 7 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. (19.1 x 28.6 cm)

Dzerzhinskaya station, renamed Lubyanka after the fall of the Soviet Union, was one of the thirteen stations included in the official opening of the Metro in 1935. The station was designed by influential avant-garde architect Nikolai Ladovsky (1888-1941), whose plans had to be modified in order to accommodate the layers of quicksand and soft, malleable clay that were discovered beneath the square. Ladovsky’s design included large swaths of dark, patterned marble along the station walls, much of which was destroyed during the expansion of the station in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This rare photograph captures a passageway leading into station, and shows the original design before its destruction in the ensuing decades. The relatively low ceiling, in comparison to the high arches of more opulent stations, is suggestive of the engineering difficulties overcome in the station’s construction. The composition of this photograph, which emphasizes the elegant curve of the passageway, as well as the glimmering reflections of the abundant round ceiling lights on the surrounding marble walls, most likely appealed to Meyer’s Bauhaus sensibility and his commitment to refined and functional design. The inclusion of two figures in the center of the frame highlights the spaciousness of the passageway, and the capacity of the newly construction Metro to accommodate Moscow’s growing population.

mayakovskaya station

Attributed to the Hannes Meyer (1889-1954) Brigade
Mayakovskaya station, c. 1938
Vintage mounted gelatin silver print
Title on typed label on mount recto
Image 7 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. (19.1 x 28.6 cm)

Part of the second phase of construction of the Metro, Mayakovskaya station was completed in 1938. Like the Palace of the Soviets station, this station was designed by Alexey Dushkin (1904-1977), who received a Grand Prix for this design at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, where a reproduction of the interior of the Mayakovskaya station was installed and made to appear life-size through the use of mirrors.

This photograph by Hannes Meyer can also be found in the collection of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal. The perspective in this image draws attention to the vast length of the station as well as to the aesthetically pleasing repetition of design and architectural features, in particular archways and lighting fixtures. In place of the traditional heavy, vaulted halls that marked earlier stations, Dushkin placed high marble arches and columns, faced with stainless steel, which reflected natural light from small lamps nested in cupolas. The cupolas were decorated with mosaics designed by Dushkin’s friend, the great Soviet painter Alexander Deineka, who collaborated on the project with the mosaic studio of the Leningrad Academy of Arts.

As scholar Karen Kettering writes, “At Mayakovsky, the engineers...produced one of the most innovative designs of the system. Although using a basically Classical vocabulary and framework, the designers introduced prominent Modernist and contemporary elements, and the resulting tension between them has been essential to the interior's continuing visual power.” Mayakovskaya station was also notable for its exceptional depth of 33 meters, which led to its use as an air raid shelter during World War II. The station was also famously used for a speech by Stalin at an assembly on the anniversary of the October Revolution in 1941.

kievskaya station

Naum Granovsky (1910-1984)
Kievskaya Station, c. 1937
Vintage gelatin silver print
19 1/2 x 13 1/2 in. (49.5 x 34.3 cm)

In this photograph, Granovsky captures the newly built Kievskaya station, which opened in 1937. Its designer was the architect, city planner, and writer Dmitry Chechulin (1901-81), who is known today not only for his designs of the Kievskaya and Komsomolskaya stations, but also for the Stalinist skyscraper known as the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building, which at the time of its construction in 1952 was the tallest building in Europe.

The Metro stations built in the late 1930s were much more ornate than those built in 1935 and 1936, due to criticism that the early stations were not sufficiently decorative. In the construction of these later stations, the ideologically charged and stunningly ornate designs for which the entire system is now famous came to fruition. In this image, Granovsky’s characteristically deep perspective draws attention to the station’s famous motif of small, recessed lighting fixtures that repeat across the ceiling, with detailing in bronze; as well as to the columns clad in marble of a variety of colors, from black and white to rose and scarlet, and topped with porcelain capitals. Also on view in this photograph is the elaborate mosaic floor, which was made of fragments of marble from the multicolored columns; this floor has since been removed, and is thus another historic feature that is now visible only in rare photographs such as this one. A print of this photograph was shown at the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, as part of the 2004 exhibition Naum Granovsky: Moscow 1930-1970.

kurskaya station

Attributed to the Hannes Meyer (1889-1954) Brigade
Kurskaya station, c. 1938
Vintage gelatin silver print
Image 7 7/8 x 11 1/4 in. (20 x 28.6 cm)

Kurskaya station opened in early 1938. This photograph, taken in one of the lobbies of the station, shows a group of well dressed officials at the top of a series of escalators, which descend beneath a wide archway. The stations included in the second phase of construction were much more ornate than those in the first phase, due to criticism that the early stations were not sufficiently decorative. As a result, it is the second phase that saw the flowering of the ideologically charged and stunningly ornate designs for which the entire system is now famous.

The composition of this photograph captures a multiplicity of design details, from the coffered ceiling and sumptuous marble walls to the diversity of lighting fixtures and the geometric pattern of black diabase and red granite floor. Individual plates of blue-gray marble from the Urals were chosen for the walls in order to enrich the overall design. The designer of Kurskaya station was Leonid Poliakov, former student of the influential Russian architect Ivan Fomin, who was in the midst of designing the Sverdlov Square station when he died of a sudden stroke in 1936. As Kettering describes, Poliakov took over the Sverdlov Square project in the midst of completing the Kurskaya station, with the result that several design features from Kurskaya station were related in the Sverdlov Square station. During World War II, Kurskaya station was used as a bomb shelter, and part of the station served to shelter the State Library.

rodina (motherland) cinema, moscow

Naum Granovsky (1910-1984)
Rodina (Motherland) Cinema, Moscow, 1939
Vintage gelatin silver print
Title in Cyrillic in pen and photographer's signature in pencil on verso
10 7/8 x 7 5/8 in. (27.6 x 19.4 cm)

This photograph captures the impressive façade of the historic Rodina (Motherland) Cinema, built in Moscow in 1938 by architects Yakov Kornfeld (1896-1962) and Viktor Kalmykov (1908-1981). One of the movie posters on the façade advertises the 1939 film Vsadniki (Guerrilla Brigade), which dates the photograph to just a year after the completion of the theater. As writer Simon Mraz explains in The Calvert Journal, “When they were established in the 1930s, Moscow’s network of cinemas covered the Soviet capital with a system of local markers similar in scale and importance to its famous metro. The cinemas were built next to transport hubs in new districts, according to a communist urban vision that aimed to create residential areas with real infrastructure, not mere commuter zones. The ambition for these cinemas to reflect the greatness of the entire Soviet Union lent the buildings a unique significance that went beyond cultural or urban importance.”

The Rodina Cinema was built in the style of Postconstructivism, which is defined by architectural historian Selim Khan-Magomedov as “neoclassical shapes without neoclassical detailing” and is seen here in the stark, square columns and upper colonnade, which lack capitals, cornices, or other adornments. The Rodina is also notable as being the only remaining Soviet-era theater in Moscow. In 2014, almost forty of these theaters were sold to a property developer for reconstruction and redevelopment as “community centers”; the Rodina Theater was preserved due to its status as a cultural heritage site.

krymsky bridge

Naum Granovsky (1910-1984)
Krymsky Bridge, c. 1938
Vintage gelatin silver print
Image 7 3/4 x 11 1/2 in. (19.7 x 29.2 cm)
Mount 8 5/8 x 14 1/2 in. (21.9 x 36.8 cm)

Krymsky Bridge, also known as the Crimean Bridge, was constructed in 1938, replacing an existing bridge that was deemed unsafe. The project was part of Stalin’s reconstruction of Moscow, which included the demolition or reconstruction of every bridge in the city.

This is one of the most famous photographs by Granovsky, an ode to modern design and advances in the new art of photography. The striking constructivist composition highlights not the span or breadth of the bridge, but its structural novelty; to this day, Krymsky Bridge is the only suspension bridge in Moscow. Granovsky’s lens focuses on the immense steel tower and cable; their huge bolts gleam in the sunlight, and his dramatic perspective makes the entire structure appear so massive that it dwarfs both the few cars and pedestrians below and the buildings on the other side of the Moskva river.

vdnkh 1939

Naum Granovsky (1910-1984)
All Union Agricultural Exhibition (VDNKh), 1939
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1960s
Title, date, and artist’s signature on verso
6 7/8 x 9 1/4 in. (17.5 x 23.5 cm)

Established in 1935, the All Union Agricultural Exhibition (VDNKh) was delayed for several years until its much-anticipated opening in 1939 in the northern part of Moscow. Each republic and major region in the USSR had an elaborate pavilion that exhibited and celebrated the agricultural accomplishments, technological innovations, and distinctive folk culture of their area. As Russian historian Lewis Siegelbaum writes, “Eventually including over 200 buildings set on 600 acres of park land, the 1939 Exhibition celebrated both the triumphs of Soviet agriculture and the unbreakable brotherhood of the peoples of the USSR. It was a kind of giant Potemkin village, an Eden of Communism, graced with a huge statue of Stalin and the emblematic statue of the male worker and the female collective farmer that Vera Mukhina designed for the 1937 Paris Exposition [click here to view Georgy Petrusov’s photograph of the iconic sculpture].” Granovsky captures the excitement of the opening year of the exhibition in this photograph of the famous “Golden Spike” fountain, shaped as a sheaf of wheat and consisting of over sixty jets of water; as well as the striking dome of the Cosmos Pavilion, which included two tiers of tractors, trucks, and other agricultural vehicles.

Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, Moscow

Georgy Petrusov (1903-1971)
Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, Moscow, 1939
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signature of Petrusov’s wife and title in Russian on verso
11 1/2 x 9 1/8 in. (29.2 x 23.2 cm)

Worker and Kolkhoz Woman centers around Vera Mukhina's (1889-1953) eponymous statue of two figures holding a hammer and sickle that the artist created for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. As if in an act of defiance, Mukhina’s 80 ft tall sculpture was placed directly opposite of the Nazi German pavilion. Following the world fair, the sculpture was relocated to the VDNKh Park in Moscow.

Press Release

Nailya Alexander Gallery is pleased to present The Art of Photography and Architecture in Soviet Russia: 1920s-1930s, on view online Monday 7 September to Saturday 10 October 2020. Our exhibition explores the relationship between photography and architecture in the Soviet Union during a time of unprecedented artistic, urban, and industrial transformation, when Constructivism began to recede in prominence and Stalinist architecture became the dominant style. The exhibition includes photographs by the leading Soviet photographers of the era, including Arkady Shaikhet (1898-1959), Boris Ignatovich (1899-1976), Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956), Georgy Petrusov (1903-1971), Ivan Shagin (1904-1982), Yakov Khalip (1908-1980), and Naum Granovsky (1910-1984).

With the consolidation of state power under Stalin by the late 1920s, enormous industrial and construction projects were undertaken across the country, creating novel expressive outlets for the architects and designers of the era. At the same time, photography was at the forefront of visual experimentation, and became an ideal tool for documenting and interpreting the new architectural marvels. Photographers employed unexpected angles and perspectives to express the artistry of these awe-inspiring projects.

On view are Arkady Shaikhet’s famous photograph of the silhouettes of two workers constructing the revolving glass globe that decorated the façade of Moscow’s Central Telegraph Building (1928); and Boris Ignatovich’s striking photograph of the roof of the Bakhmet'ev garage (1933), designed by architect Vladimir Shukhov, who also designed the steel diagrid Shukhov Tower featured in a 1929 photograph by Rodchenko. In Floors (1929), Ignatovich captures the the radical triangular-shaped staircase of the Constructivist Communal House of the Textile Institute, highlighting the depth and seamlessness of the gradual ramps between the floors. These photographs demonstrate the dominance of Constructivism as both an architectural and a photographic style, characterized by strong geometric forms, minimal stylization, and an emphasis on modern design and materials.

Alongside with the reconstruction of Moscow and the building of the Moscow Canal, the construction of the Moscow Metro was one of the most significant architectural projects accomplished by the Soviet state. Great attention and expense were lavished upon the architecture of each station. Brightly lit and with high, arching ceilings, the stations resembled palaces; throughout the platforms and tunnels, towering sculptures, mosaics studded with precious stones, and bronze bas-reliefs reminded both Soviet citizens and international visitors that they were experiencing one of the most magnificent public transportation systems in the world. Our exhibition features several photographs of the first stations, including rare vintage gelatin silver prints attributed to the Hannes Meyer Brigade, which use deep perspective to emphasize the curving and spacious passageways.

By the late 1930s, architectural styles in Russia had shifted dramatically from avant-garde designs to monumental, Empire-style Stalinist architecture, characterized by a unique mix of stark, imposing exteriors, meant to communicate the overwhelming strength and power of the regime; and opulent interiors, adorned with elaborate details and neoclassical and neo-Gothic elements. Stalinist architectural projects included not only skyscrapers and transportation systems, but also state buildings such as the house of the Council of Ministers, captured in the exhibition by Yakov Khalip in 1934, just two years from its completion. Movie theaters such as the Rodina Cinema, designed in Postconstructivist style and captured by Naum Granovsky in 1939, were built next to Metro stations in order to establish urban cultural hubs throughout the city.

Perhaps the most iconic statue of the era was Vera Mukhina’s Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, created for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris and photographed by Georgy Petrusov in 1939 in its new location at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (VDNKh) north of Moscow; also included in the exhibition is Naum Granovsky’s photograph of the VDNKh fair site, featuring its elaborate “Golden Spike” fountain, shaped as a sheaf of wheat, and a view of the striking dome of the Cosmos Pavilion. 

Photographers at this unique time in history invented new techniques to capture the unprecedented physical scale of these groundbreaking architectural projects, and to express a sense of exhilaration and national pride. Architecture and photography became powerful and complementary tools in the creation of new Soviet society and its utopian vision of the future.