Within the broad phenomenon of cultural transfer that characterizes modernity and modernization worldwide, the most paradoxical bilateral relationship is the one established between Russia and the United States during the long twentieth century.
Beginning with the first World’s Fair, held in Philadelphia in 1876, until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, every defining moment in Soviet history has been shaped by a set of idealized representations of the politics, technology, territorial developments, architecture, and visual culture of America. In 1924, Leon Trotsky went as far as to affirm that “Americanized Bolshevism will triumph and smash imperialist Americanism,” echoing the prophetic vision, formulated by Alexander Blok, of a “New America” forged in the coal-mining regions of Russia.
“Amerikanizm” in Russia can be construed as a multifaceted phantasmagoria—a term used by Walter Benjamin to interpret the spectacle of the commodity. Russian political thinkers, writers, architects, and designers experienced ideal images of the New World as a sequence of fantasies. Visual and textual representations, unfolding on a continuum, generated a collective illusion that shaped modern Russia.
The exhibition and accompanying publication rewrite the history of Russian architecture and urban design in light of this enduring amerikanizm by analyzing, among others, high-rise buildings, including of the late Stalinist era, factories and industrial infrastructure, and Cold War product design. The narrative is underlined by an expanded definition of architecture and of culture that encompasses industrial and graphic design, music, photography, film, and literature.
Curator: Jean-Louis Cohen, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Collège de France, Paris
Exhibition design and visual identity: MG&Co., Houston
Book design: Gregor Huber (Huber/Sterzinger), Zurich