Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modern Architecture, 1922-32 Photographs by Richard Pare
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
New York City
212 708 9400
July 18–October 29, 2007
Richard Pare is a documentary photographer who specializes in historical architecture and has written a book on the subject entitled Photography and Architecture. He spent fifteen years collecting examples of architectural photography, covering the entire history of the medium, for the Centre of Canadian architecture, which now contains forty-eight thousand photographs and counting.
An exhibition that coincides with the publication of his book, Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modern Architecture, 1922-32 published by Monacelli Press, is currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art.
There was a brief time in Soviet Russia when architecture played a role in the widespread cultural experimentation that flourished among all the arts. Soviet Modernist buildings expressed and in some cases, helped realize, revolutionary Communism’s visionary ideals. The buildings remain, in their current dilapidated and threatened state, significant in the history of the 20th century avant-garde.
Workers Clubs, such as the Zuev Club with its cylindrical stairway, were devoted to collective activity and were often built near factories. Residential dwellings such as the Narkomfin Communal House, partially inspired by Le Corbusier, had private living units that were integrated throughout larger spaces that were meant to facilitate the social engineering programs that reconstructed daily life. Soviet society was to be reorganized around factories, such as Eric Mendelsohn’s ship-like Red Banner Textile Factory, heralding an industrialized future in a workers utopia.
Most of these ‘Manifesto’ buildings were realized in a brief period shortly before the death of Lenin and before Stalin was able to completely stamp out all the vestiges of the Cultural Revolution and institute a Social Realist program, which included the use of a monumentalized neo-classicist style in building in order to express the power of the state.
Pare made eight extensive trips to the former Soviet Union photographing these extraordinary buildings. He had known the work from old issues of the magazine,USSR in Construction. Images from the magazine of the buildings under consideration, many of which he discovered to be retouched, are included in the exhibition.
The particular problems that came with taking contemporary images of this subject matter have to do with communicating what Pare refers to in an interview in the current issue of Bomb magazine as the “their muscular energy and vibrant re-invention of the fundamentals of architecture”.
The work in evidence communicates this spirit while it maintains enough distance to render the apparent dilapidation of many of the structures, while at the same time keeping out any sense of poignancy. His stated aim to make photographs which contain “the incredible humanity and warm melancholy” of Robert Frank and the “absolutely razor sharp vision” of Walker Evans has been largely achieved here.