The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2020

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NOV 2020 Issue
Field Notes In Conversation

JEAN-LOUIS COHEN with Ross Wolfe

Architecture and Revolution

Arkhitektura Vkhutemas [Architecture of Vkhutemas], cover by El Lissitzky (Moscow, 1927).
Arkhitektura Vkhutemas [Architecture of Vkhutemas], cover by El Lissitzky (Moscow, 1927).

Jean-Louis Cohen is among today’s preeminent historians of modern architecture. Although he first specialized in the Soviet avant-garde, his interests grew to encompass the whole of international modernism. Cohen’s encyclopedic 2012 overview of The Future of Architecture since 1889: A Worldwide History, is as far-ranging a survey as anything written by Siegfried Giedion, Manfredo Tafuri, William Curtis, or Leonardo Benevolo. He has also organized a number of exhibitions on Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and lesser-known architects like André Lurçat.

The following interview took place the evening of October 21, 2019, and focused on four main points: the enduring relevance of the Soviet avant-garde; the relationship between revolutionary architectural form and revolutionary social content; the legacy of the Vkhutemas school for architecture in Moscow, often overshadowed by the smaller German Bauhaus; and Cohen’s new show at the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal on “Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture.”

Ross Wolfe (Rail): Last spring, you delivered the inaugural Leonard A. Lauder lecture series at the Metropolitan Museum. You chose to cover the first two decades of modern architecture in the USSR, under the title “Art x Architecture: Russian Intersections, 1917–1937.” Why this topic? What does the Soviet avant-garde have to teach us today?

Jean-Louis Cohen: Let’s start with the end. I don’t think that the avant-garde “teaches” us anything. It remains a unique historical experience. I’m very skeptical about the idea of being “taught” by history. But, that said, studying this experience can help us make decisions and consider the condition of architecture and the arts today.

The Russian avant-garde, globally speaking, was split into many currents, subcurrents, movements, etc. So the term “avant-garde” subsumes widely diverse innovative efforts that developed in Russia already before the revolution. Everything started around 1912 and continued in varied forms all the way through to the late ’30s. The basic message was that art, and research into unseen forms, could be articulated with social change, that art, or the most extreme forms of radical innovation in art, could embody values of social change. In parallel, the generous values of the early Soviet Union were lost between the 1917 revolution and the Stalinist regression of the early ’30s. That’s the basic thing.

The current architectural scene cannot be reduced to the monumental feats or excesses of a handful of well-known architects. Architecture today consists of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide working on houses and schools, designing hospitals, and landscapes. It’s a pity, in my view, to see architecture flattened out or understood only as dealing with the big monuments of states and corporations. Architecture is a practice that can, and in many cases does, produce our living environment. If we have this perspective, then the Russian avant-garde shows us examples where new types of spaces could be imagined without cynicism in a very tight economy.

Now as for the Lauder lectures—I made an opening joke at the first talk: when the president of the Met invited me to address an audience, his letter referred to me…

Rail: As an expert in Cubism!

Cohen: Which I’m not. But I nonetheless had to respond to the concerns of the Met. The Leonard A. Lauder Center for Modern Art is mostly devoted to art in its broader forms. So instead of doing a purely architectural set of lectures, I proposed a reading of the experience of the avant-garde that connected developments in art with developments in architecture. If the lectures had been for a center focused on architecture, or one focused on urban design, the lectures would have been different. There are many ways of looking at this history.

Rail: Perhaps not focusing as much on Cubo-Futurism or Zhivskulptarkh.

Cohen: The moment of their emergence was indeed interesting. But very early Constructivism took off, and later new relationships were created. Regardless, I tried to respond to this expectation while also at the same time building a reflective apparatus that might become the embryo of another, more comprehensive publication.

Rail: Historiographically speaking, though, Anatole Kopp and Kenneth Frampton and others who were rediscovering the Soviet avant-garde in the 1960s were living through a period of rapid upheaval in the West. Kopp in particular was associated with Henri Lefebvre, and adopted a more Marxist theoretical framework. Both looked back at Soviet modernism during a time they thought similarly portended revolutionary change.

Cohen: Frampton published articles around 1968 or 1969 about the Russian architectural avant-garde, among the earliest in the English language (after Camilla Gray had written on the artistic avant-garde). He was insisting on this idea that the work of Ivan Leonidov had anticipated the work of Buckminster Fuller, Konrad Wachsmann, or Frei Otto. So he was then drawing a lesson about precedents in terms of structural and aesthetic research. Kopp—who was my mentor in things Russian, opening my eyes I was his student, already having read his books when I was still just a teenager—likewise brought the Soviet modernists’ work back to light during the ’60s.

And both of them, at one point, alluded approvingly to the Cultural Revolution in China. They saw something promising in it. Of course, this was an illusion. Frampton specifically mentioned the Red Guards in one of his articles, and I remember Kopp viewed early Soviet de-urbanist projects as a precedent for the so-called “popular communes” in China.

Rail: Hopefully not the rustication of the intellectuals or anything like that.

Cohen: They were both rather blindfolded by the discourse of the time.

Rail: Lots of the excesses didn’t come out until Simon Leys reported on them in the ’70s.

Cohen: Yes, and Leys was indeed a fantastic intellectual. I really loved his writings, also his reflections on literature.

Rail: Enthusiasm for Maoism notwithstanding, what I’m getting at here is the reason these historians revisited early Soviet modernism in architecture and urban planning. Kopp and Frampton believed it held some sort of promise, or conveyed a message that could be taken up again in the ’60s during new waves of struggles. Perhaps they were misled about the nature of what was going on in the Cultural Revolution, but…

Cohen: But this was clearly a marginal aspect, you’re right. And they were widely different, as Kopp was much more politicized than Frampton. In the early days of the Cold War, he’d been blacklisted from practicing architecture at all because he participated in Communist demonstrations. He remained a member of the Parti Communiste Français until 1968. Lefebvre had famously resigned 10 years earlier, in 1958. I’ve dealt with the relationship between these two elsewhere. Lefebvre read Kopp, who was privileged in his reading of Constructivism—the Lefebvrean motif of “the reconstruction of everyday life.”

Rail: Wasn’t Lefebvre himself drawing upon early Soviet stuff on перестройка быта?

Cohen: No, he got it all from Kopp’s 1967 book Town and Revolution. It’s footnoted in The Urban Revolution (1970). They both ran in the same Parisian, post-Resistance circles during the ’50s. Personally I knew them both, Kopp better than Lefebvre, for reasons related to what my father was up to at the time.

Rail: Either way, that segues nicely to my next question. Utopianism in architecture and urbanism has often seemed to accompany revolutionary ferments in the sociopolitical realm, from Boullée and Ledoux during the period of the French Revolution up through the modern architects of OSA and ASNOVA after October 1917. Would you say there is a connection between revolutions in art and architecture on the one hand, and social and political revolutions on the other? If so, what is it?

Cohen: That’s a vast question. I don’t think there is a necessary link. For if you look at many of the schemes made right after the revolution in Russia, they were extremely conservative: eclectic, neoclassical. Really it took a while before architecture began engaging in more experimental pursuits. An important concept here is the concept of generation. Sometimes the aspirations between widely different types of people—political, artistic—operate in a particular mode within a given generation. You have to see who the Bolsheviks were, and who was promoting new forms in art prior to 1914 and see what the first generation of revolutionaries, and the artists associated with them shared. There was a sort of simultaneity in terms of their vision of the world, and in terms of their readings, which for me is just as crucial as any explicit connections.

Rail: In your talk, you invoked the work of Reinhart Koselleck on this issue of distinct generations.

Cohen: Precisely. Koselleck spoke of a shared “horizon of expectation” between groups and individuals, and this was true of many political and artistic types at the time. They were also often coming out of a similar encounter with the West.

Even though many Bolsheviks hailed from noble or bourgeois families, they became outcasts. Many of them were exiled to the US, and not just the leaders. When the February Revolution broke out in 1917, Trotsky, Bukharin, and Kollontai were all living in New York. Beyond these well-known figures, however, thousands of engineers, technicians of all sorts, and assorted intellectuals were present who’d later return to Russia as part of a phenomenon called “reimmigration.” Such individuals were strongly present in the staff of major ministries after 1917, running the state machine in the fledgling USSR. Nevertheless, before this time they had been temporarily kicked out of the social system of Russia.

To bring it back to the generational context, many young artists outside the academies found themselves in a similar predicament. Free of any institutional ties, they were extremely critical of the pre-revolutionary establishment art scene. Of course, there was this striking semantic aspect: unlike elsewhere in the West, it was impossible for the Russian modernists to call modern architecture “modern.” In Russia, the term was too deeply tainted…

Rail: Because of style moderne?

Cohen: Yes, which was how art nouveau was branded upon export to the East. And so the modernists were forced to refer to their architecture as “contemporary” [современная]. Things were different in France, where “modern” had been purged of these resonances by time Le Corbusier and others rolled around.

But I would insist on this connection between generations, which is still part of our daily experience today. It was certainly true for the soixante-huitards, the generation of ’68, where solidarities existed between political activists and those more engaged in art or literature or cinema.

The other major dimension besides the generational one was the fantasy of a brand new world, the idea of shaping a completely different society which left the old world behind. Already this was something contained in the 1848 Manifesto of Marx and Engels. Lenin regarded the Manifesto as a literal blueprint for what he tried to do, and many architects who were part of the avant-garde were exposed to such revolutionary texts and harbored similar aspirations. So they regarded themselves as being in the same boat: having to break with an architecture that was at the service of the ruling class, which was recycling elements of a formal language that was obsolete.

What is different in the case of Russia is that you don’t find an equivalent generation of powerful prewar innovators—people such as Otto Wagner, Auguste Perret, Henry van de Velde, Louis Sullivan, or Frank Lloyd Wright. There were of course some progressive architects. One of them who was very interesting was Aleksandr Dmitriev. He had been to the US in 1904, and published a fascinating book in 1905 in which he discussed American grain elevators (way before Gropius!).

Rail: Backtracking a little bit to the first question, with this idea of generations, and trying to relate it to current architectural practice: Do you see architects today as envisioning a radical break with the existing society, in the same way as the generation of 1917? In other words, do they see themselves as either putting their work at the service of broader social transformation or embodying its values?

Cohen: Sometimes I’m surprised when talking to students at architectural schools in the US, to see how many have a renewed political commitment. Not 100 percent, of course, but many of them want to be socially relevant. They don’t want to go out and work for a famous haute couture firm. But I see this preoccupation. I’m an architect by training and while I wouldn’t say that it’s the most wonderful profession in the world, there is a difference in terms of their clientele. What is different is that, unlike artists in pursuit of knowledge and delight or engineers in pursuit of technical perfection, architects have a sense of being able to improve people’s lives. Obviously many want to make money, do business, etc., but there is still this perception among architects that they possess a social relevance (that is, once one gets past the mythology and narcissism of “free creativity”). So, if not the idea of architecture as part of a possible revolutionary change, there is nevertheless the feeling that it can have an impact on society.

Rail: In the sense that the built environment shapes experience?

Cohen: Well, either shapes or contributes to experience. It presents us with different possibilities; it can empower people.

A running theme throughout my work, one of my favorite interpretive lines, is that the major shift which occurred in architecture during the 20th century was not due primarily to the invention of new materials, the loss of ornament, the rejection of monumentality, or really anything having to do with formal design. Rather, it stemmed from a changed addressee: architecture had been subservient in previous ages to the whims of the ruling class, but now was forced to address the needs of a new user base.

Rail: The masses?

Cohen: It happened quite massively, in forms that were at times collectivist and at other times more market-based. But basically, the addressee of architecture became much broader than it had been before.

Rail: You saw a similar wave of artistic innovation, certainly in Germany and then parts of Eastern Europe. No doubt this wave took its cues somewhat from Russian avant-garde design, painting, and so on. These were also countries that went through abortive revolutions between 1917 and 1923, however, and the art movements that sprouted up in them frequently possessed a generic socialist content. Do you feel that this influenced their commitments?

Cohen: It took different forms.

Let’s leave the Bauhaus out of it for a moment. Certainly the Bauhaus grew out of an aesthetic ideal of an interchange between art and industry, but it did not become a real architectural school until Hannes Meyer took over in 1928. Then it developed a very clear social orientation, for about two years. Afterward it became a narrower professional school under the directorship of Mies van der Rohe from 1930 to 1933. In my view, the centrality of the Bauhaus has been overestimated. What is more representative of Weimar Germany for me is the work of Ernst May in Frankfurt, Bruno Taut’s Siedlungen in Berlin, and the brick-building of various modernists in Hamburg, beginning with Karl Schneider.

So in Germany there was definitely a comprehensive program of modern architecture. It successfully addressed, even in purely quantitative terms, the needs of the upper crust of the working class and public employees. From 1925 to 1933, there existed all sorts of projects that had state funding and whatnot. The Nazis inherited this system, and continued with their own goals, but institutionally the same basic structure remained.

I don’t see many connections with Russia. A few individuals belonged to the Association of the Friends of Red Russia, like Taut and Mies at one point. Erich Mendelsohn went to work in Moscow. Taut also tried to do that. Many followed May and Meyer to the USSR after 1930. But the input of Russia into Germany was minimal. The only country where its influence was significant was Czechoslovakia, where modernism persisted up to the German invasion of 1938…

Rail: Owing to Karel Teige?

Cohen: Not just Teige, who was a critic, but also members of the Levá fronta who worked on the Koldom collective housing type (analogous to the Soviet дом-коммуна, which they knew about thanks to Teige). The Czechoslovaks were quite familiar with the scene in the USSR; they were the ones who came closest to what the Russians were imagining. Aesthetically, as well. So the only real bridgehead of Soviet architectural discourse in the West was Czechoslovakia, almost exclusively. In Hungary there was no such influence. Modernist villas were built there, but these bore the mark of Germany more than Russia, resembling the various Siedlungen.

Rail: 2019 marked the centennial of the opening of the famous school in Weimar, which has served as the occasion of numerous retrospectives. Next year will be 100 years since the Vkhutemas school opened its doors in Moscow. Sometimes referred to as “the Soviet Bauhaus,” it remains less well-known than its German counterpart, despite having been much larger in terms of its student body. How should Vkhutemas be remembered? And what would you say is the school’s legacy a century later?

Cohen: Quantitatively, you are right. The total number of architects trained at the Bauhaus was on the order of 150, compared to more than 10,000 architects who came from Vkhutemas.

It was a completely different school, much more diverse than the Bauhaus, which was essentially the creation of one man, Gropius, who recruited the first teachers and set up the general structure and pedagogical style. Of course, there were distinct phases depending on whether it was Johannes Itten teaching or László Moholy-Nagy. But it was in the end a very small school, where the director had considerable power. This was also true when Meyer took over, though many of the masters from the days of Gropius stayed on and contributed to his successor’s ouster. It is clear now that Paul Klee played a major role in kicking Meyer out, a process that has always been presented in a more political light by legends of leftwing architecture…

Rail: Because he was a communist.

Cohen: Well it’s not certain that that was the reason he got kicked out. Good research has been done on this by Dara Kiese, who took part in the show on the Bauhaus at MoMA. She showed that it was largely due to conflicts inside the school. Had the faculty backed Meyer, he would not have been ousted.

Rail: Meyer himself believed political motives were involved. He noted the irony of the fact that he was slated to be replaced by the man who designed the monument to the Marxist martyrs Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.

Cohen: Yes, but Mies had been approached in 1928 to succeed Gropius and refused at that time. Mies constantly pretended to be apolitical, even though he’d done this monument.

Anyway, to return to my point, Vkhutemas was a far more diverse institution. In the early days you had established academic architects like Aleksei Shchusev teaching there. You also had independent modernists like Konstantin Melnikov and Ilya Golosov, who ran a branch called the New Academy in parley with the ASNOVA guys (Nikolai Ladovsky, Vladimir Krinsky, Nikolai Dokuchaev). Then you had Aleksandr Vesnin, the founder of a proto-Constructivist studio. Vkhutemas remained extremely pluralist throughout its existence, with very interesting experiments in all the disciplines. Aleksandr Rodchenko’s Metfak and El Lissitzky’s Derfak paved the way to the development of Soviet design for decades to come. Ladovsky and Krinsky’s exercises in mass and weight, taught with clay models, remain a unique case of mass education to creative work—a concern typical of Vkhutemas, where many students had no secondary education or preliminary training in the arts and had to be schooled through an innovative pedagogy. Some of the thesis projects allowed for the creation of major architectural statements, as with Leonidov’s Lenin Institute for Librarianship of 1927, probably the most elegant manifesto of Constructivism. The Moscow school followed closely contemporary developments in the West, in particular in Germany, and built relationships with the Bauhaus. As for Ladovsky, he set up within the school psychotechnical studies which allowed him to test the students’ ability to see in space.

Rail: Wasn’t it borrowed from Hugo Münsterberg?

Cohen: It was indeed an echo of Münsterberg’s industrial psychology, as well as of what Aleksei Gastev was doing at his Central Institute of Labor. So that was one wing of Vkhutemas, while the Constructivist wing was more interested in programs and responding to social change. Later came the young, self-proclaimed “proletarian” architects, who wanted to get rid of all the avant-garde instructors and take their jobs. Once again, this was a generational matter. But it drew into the discussion a number of political leaders who hadn’t given much consideration to architectural matters before.

You asked about the legacy of Vkhutemas. Many of the major players in Stalinist architecture came out of the school, a number from the proletarian wing: Arkady Mordvinov, Alexandr Vasilevich Vlasov, etc. (Some had a different background, to be sure. Boris Iofan had been trained in Italy, for instance, so he was coming from elsewhere.) Furthermore, what is striking is that some of Vkhutemas’s principles of education carried through to the ’30s and beyond. Elements of its pedagogy had a longer life than its other aspects. The 1934 design handbook written by Krinsky et al. remained foundational to the training of new architects for decades to come. Vkhutemas thus cast a rather long shadow over the professional life of Russia.

Rail: Why do you think the Bauhaus is so much better remembered? Is it because of its institutional afterlife in the US?

Cohen: The Bauhaus had outstanding PR agents. Just think back to the 1938 MoMA show dedicated to the school, which symptomatically covered the years 1919–1928 (in other words the Gropius years, before Meyer and Mies). And then think of the mammoth 1969 exhibition organized by the Federal Republic of Germany, which was very important to the reception of the Bauhaus. Indeed, it was the country’s first massive cultural export, touring museums in Amsterdam, Paris, and Chicago: a gigantic show, featuring thousands of works and a very influential catalogue that cast the image of the school for generations. Hans M. Wingler, an agent of Gropius, then released a book of documents which minimized the role of Mies and ignored Meyer while celebrating the early years of the Bauhaus.

I have a theory about all of this. “Bauhaus” is a sort of fantastic signifier, which has been used at various times to describe to two distinct signifieds. First is the Bauhaus proper: the school, the pedagogy, the program. Next there is the much looser definition, which refers to everything: everyone associated with the school at certain points, and their production over the course of a career. So in this second meaning the Bauhaus flag is planted on Gropius’s entire output, and not just what he did in the context of working at the school. The term has thereby been inflated to signify a vast quantity of material that had nothing to do with the Bauhaus as a historical event.

Another effect of this inflation was the yearslong complete neglect of numerous other schools that were highly important to the reshaping of architecture in Germany and Central Europe during this period. In Tel Aviv, for example, people talk about the Bauhaus presence. But of the 100 or so architects who shaped the “White City” in the ’30s, only three or four had received training at the Bauhaus. Others came from the Technische Universität in Vienna (which was a major technical university), from the TU Berlin (with two major studios it was the biggest school in those years), from the Brno University of Technology, or from Stuttgart (whose school had many more students than the Bauhaus). And there were many smaller schools, like the academy in Breslau, that were extremely radical. So in a way the Bauhaus served as a vast camouflage for all of these developments, the real sources of which were hidden for years. Nowadays there is greater knowledge of these sources.

Thanks to research done in Germany, even the official reception of the Bauhaus has recently been scrutinized. Finally, there is a full acknowledgment of Meyer’s role. It’s a different story now, but the classical narrative began in 1938 at MoMA. Remember what could be found about the Bauhaus back when I was a student: you could find the show’s catalog, and after 1969 you could get the one from the German exhibition (which was simultaneously published in French and English as well). Wingler’s aforementioned mega-book was also available, but it was extravagantly expensive. Other books, like Giulio Carlo Argan’s Walter Gropius e la Bauhaus (1957), were also around back then. Argan connected the two in a very close manner. It’d be interesting to go back and revisit it today.

Rail: Shifting gears a bit, you have a new exhibition on “Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture” set to debut next month at the Canadian Centre for Architecture. From the time that your 1995 book Scenes of the World to Come was published, the European reception of the American city has been an abiding interest for you. Tell us a bit about this latest show.

Cohen: In fact, my interest in this subject goes back much further. The 1995 CCA show was one stage in this. Earlier in Paris, I had organized a conference in 1985 with Hubert Damisch called “Americanism and Modernity.” A book was released in 1993 based on the proceedings. We invited people like Reyner Banham, who contributed a chapter from his A Concrete Atlantis (1986). Rem Koolhaas presented a paper on Wallace Harrison. Kopp was there as well, talking about Albert Kahn’s relationship with Russia. So I had already done a number of things pertaining to the American influence.

Early on, I remember reading a book published in France celebrating the Five-Year Plan. An English version also appeared in the US and in England around 1945 entitled Russia Has a Plan. It’s a funny book, contrasting the Soviet Union’s achievements over this stretch of time with the “unplanned” character of the American economy during the Great Depression—the waste of resources, for instance the conspicuous destruction of cars and the squandering of electrical energy. At the time the USSR was seen to be enjoying ever-greater prosperity. I read this book as a child, so my interest in the relation between these two countries extends far into the past.

Back in the ‘70s, I began to collect materials pertaining to this topic. You could thus say that the upcoming show in Montreal comes toward the end of a cycle of decades.

There are a couple things that are new here. First of all, I’ve extended the analysis beyond the usual references: the avant-garde, the ’50s Stalinist skyscrapers, the various clichés one often sees. I found scores of other interesting moments. Some quite early, for instance in the 19th century when a modern long-range railway was built connecting Moscow to Saint Petersburg. George Washington Whistler, father of the painter James McNeill Whistler, was invited by the tsar in 1842 to supply Russia with this advanced American technology. The last episode in my story of “Americanizm in Russian Architecture” was when the shopping mall designer Victor Gruen visited Moscow in the ’70s, as Russians thought that their destiny was to look more like Los Angeles than New York at the time. Raymond Loewy also went there in those years at the invitation of Brezhnev to help the Soviets make cars, airplanes, and refrigerators, as part of a broader turn toward consumption and exportable goods. Again American patterns and precedents were crucial here.

Unfortunately for the show, geopolitical tensions have existed between the Canadian and Russian governments since the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Justin Trudeau strongly condemned Vladimir Putin following this event. Russia thus decided not to lend the CCA a number of pertinent works, drawings, and so on. As a consequence, I have had to search for other things.

For instance, I found many of the draft entries to the 1931–1933 Palace of the Soviets competition by American architects. Some fantastic sketches by Joseph Urban and Percival Goodman were kept in the US, copies of which no doubt exist in Moscow as well. The participation of these figures was very important to the Soviets. One of the eventual winners, Iofan, took a trip to New York in 1935. I came across his sketchbook from this visit, which is truly outstanding. Another person whose work I documented is Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky, an architect who lived in New York between 1924 and 1935. Later he became head advisor for the high-rise buildings in Moscow. I have also shed some more light on the dealings of the Detroit industrial architect Albert Kahn in the USSR, using materials from the Kahn archives. More in the forthcoming book than in the exhibition, I dwell on amazing projects that never materialized. Plans were made for a Soviet Голливуд [Hollywood] in Crimea, for example, developed from 1935 onward by Boris Shumyatsky, who was then the boss of Soviet cinema. After his tour of Hollywood that year, he dreamt of creating a similar sort of production facility in a part of Russia where the climate was lenient. So he commissioned the Constructivist Moisei Ginzburg to draw up a design for the city. At Columbia University I discovered some panels of an exhibition on American architecture from 1945, during that brief moment when Soviet architects, engineers, and officials imagined they could collaborate with their counterparts in the US on the reconstruction of Russia. The show was presented in Russia in a simplified form, after having initially been designed by the exiled Austrian modernist Frederick Kiesler. His original drawings, which I tracked down to his archives in Vienna, were completely unrealistic.

So I’ve chained together a series of remarkable episodes. These are just parts of the mosaic at the CCA show.

Rail: You mentioned at your Lauder talk how much more popular American movies were than the Soviet avant-garde films we remember today. I’m guessing this was part of the inspiration behind the Crimean Голливуд.

Cohen: During the ’20s, at least, it’s been established that far more American films were shown in Russia than films which were domestically produced. One of the points Shumyatsky made in a letter to Stalin was the following: “We put out 122 movies a year; we need to put out 600. Nothing small anymore.” Stalin heartily endorsed this position. Yet in 1938 Shumyatsky was shot like all the others. And this was the tragic fate of Americanism in the USSR: nearly all the major players were systematically repressed between 1937 and 1939. They belonged to a group of managers who were considered dangerous by Stalin’s ruling clique.

Rail: People like Gastev…

Cohen: Together with military leaders such as Mikhail Tukhachevsky, major protagonists on Americanized industry such as Serge Obolensky and Alexander Serebrovsky, and writers such as Boris Pilnyak (who also traveled to Hollywood, although it’s less well-known than Sergei Eisenstein’s famous 1930 trip). All of this will be laid out in the book that accompanies the exhibition. Frankly, the best thing about the CCA—the reason the institution deserves credit, and I’m not just talking about this most recent project of mine—is that it publishes illustrated books no university press would ever have the guts to print. It’s subsidized publishing, to be sure, but in the end what you get is really solid reference material.


Ross Wolfe

Ross Wolfe is a writer and historian living in NYC.


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