Skip to content

Press Release

Nailya Alexander Gallery is pleased to present The Powerful Wings: Soviet Aviation 1920s–1930s, on view online Wednesday 14 October through Saturday 14 November. Our exhibition focuses on artistic representations of early Soviet aviation, from avant-garde compositions to Socialist Realist photomontage. Leading artists of the period, including Boris Ignatovich (1899–1976), Boris Kudoyarov (1898–1973), El Lissitzky (1890–1941), Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891–1956), Nikolai Sedelnikov (1905–1994), Ivan Shagin (1904–1982), Arkady Shaikhet (1898–1959), and Georgy Zelma (1906–1984) translated the country’s ambitious plans for air travel and transport into striking new visual forms. Propelled by incredible leaps in technology, photography advanced to the forefront of both the visual arts and popular media, shaping the narrative of the nascent country through the use of surprising viewpoints, bold cropping and compositions, and the use of photomontage. These revolutionary images had an indelible impact on Soviet citizens, igniting their imaginations and promoting their optimism about the future.

Highlights of the exhibition include a rare photograph of one of the first flights of the USSR’s first national commercial airline, Dobrolet, made by Shaikhet in 1924; as well as a poster by Rodchenko, who was commissioned by the airline to create a series of advertisements exhorting citizens to buy stock in the company, as the airline was funded by the population. Photographs by Zelma and Mikhail Razulevich (1904–1993) show the celebrated Maxim Gorky airplane, the largest in the world in the 1930s, depicting the colossal aircraft on a historic demonstration flight over Red Square as well as its elaborately designed interior. A triptych of gelatin silver prints by Anatoly Egorov (1907–1986) shows the massive wingspan of the L-760 airplane, which replaced the Maxim Gorky after it crashed in 1935.

Aircraft were not just the subject of art and photography in the 1920s and 1930s, but also the setting, as photographers flew high above the cities and countryside to capture the world from a radical new perspective. For the first time, the famous dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in Leningrad can be seen from above, in a photograph by Boris Ignatovich; while Shaikhet photographed a rural Soviet landscape from the Tupolev TB-3, the world’s first cantilever-wing four-engine heavy bomber aircraft. 

Also on view is work by the renowned graphic designer Nikolai Sedelnikov, who highlights the importance of aviation in his 1932 collage “The People are The Red Army’s Aides”; Sedelnikov places a paratrooper at the center of the collage, hovering over the Red Square, in a remarkable composition that combines dynamic geometrical forms with vivid blocks of color.

The Soviet press trumpeted the military demonstrations and epic expeditions undertaken by the new aircraft, and created a robust mythology of aviation culture; pilots and paratroopers became modern-day heroes and populated the media. The entire tenth issue of USSR in Construction (1934), designed by El Lissitzky, was dedicated to the rescue by aircraft of the famous steamship Cheluskin; while the exploration of the Arctic is celebrated in a 1937 photocollage depicting Ivan Papanin and his crew next to a Soviet Flag that is fluttering at the North Pole. Women, too, filled new roles in aviation, and were glorified in these settings, as exemplified by glamorous images of Muza Malinovskaya, one of the first female paratroopers; and Valentina Grizodubova, one of the first female pilots. In August 1933, magnificent annual air demonstrations were launched at the Tushino Airfield to celebrate the All-Union Day of Soviet Aviation. Boris Kudoyarov captures the impressive sight of hundreds of paratroopers descending from the sky during the 1937 parade, before crowds of around a million people. 

The rare works in our exhibition possess great artistic value, and have proven to be more powerful than the system that created them. We are grateful to the Merrill C. Berman Collection for their generous collaboration with us on this exhibition. Please direct all inquiries to