Anyone who wanted to see Sergei Tchoban’s collection of the Russian avant-garde architecture drawings had to persevere. In fact, it took me three months to finally see it two weeks before its closure. Open only on weekdays, only in the afternoon and closed during holidays, one had to walk (and get completely lost) through several buildings of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts before eventually accessing a small wooden study room. There, a research student was finishing an essay while offering chocolates to the secretary who then expressed his gratitude by audibly praising those delicious treats for the next 20 minutes. Amidst this lively chaos, I actually bumped into another rare visitor, and quite literally so, as the space was so confined.
It was within this warm atmosphere that I discovered the exhibition. I have to admit I was impressed by the achievement of having managed to fit all the drawings into this tiny space. They were everywhere: covering the walls, between computers, between desks. Wherever one looked at, there was a Russian avant-garde architectural drawing. An aficionado’s dream.
Composed of forty drawings from the collection of Russian architect Sergey Tchoban, the exhibition opened with a section on the early days of the revolution, looking at the highly creative and experimental innovations that took place within the radical Vkhutemas art and technical school. Fascinating constructivist projects by Kirill Afanasyev, Moisei Ginzburg and Iakov Chernikhov were displayed as well as drawings for the 1923 All-Russia Agricultural exhibition. An entire wall was dedicated to Aleksey Shchusev’s conception of Lenin’s mausoleum. Finally, the display led to Socialist Realism and Soviet projects from 1932 such as Boris Iofan’s Palace of the Soviets and the Meyerhold Theatre.
Overall, it was a very well-curated exhibition, with a historical display enriched by case studies. Each
of the six parts was very clearly introduced with a main panel giving a historical and artistic overview. There was also a panel for every drawing, providing more specific pieces of information and allowing the viewer to study the works in more detail, if they wanted to. Most importantly it really highlighted the blossoming of official architecture during the two decades that followed the revolution as well as the creative fertility of the time through some real visual treasures.
I would only add that the exhibition might be more suitable for a professional rather than general audience, or at least already aware of, architecture or the Russian avant-garde. The exhibition catalogue, edited by Emmanuelle Brugerolles and Jean-Louis Cohen, is in fact extremely well-documented and thorough.