Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy. The massive park by this name located in northern Moscow is one of the main monuments of Soviet architecture, combining elements of the avant-garde with Stalinist empire style and modernism in the numerous pavilions that occupy the 520-hectare site.
Modeled after the Venice Giardini in Italy, VDNKh opened in 1939 in the north of Moscow with the aim of demonstrating the power of collective farming in the USSR. A giant monument installed here — Worker and Collective Farm Woman by Vera Mukhina and Boris Iofan — is one of the park’s major symbols. First shown at the 1937 World Fair in Paris, it was hailed there as one of the greatest sculptures of the 20th century.
The pavilions of VDNKh, designed by a number of prominent Soviet architects — Vladimir Shchuko, Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky and Vladimir Gelfreich among them — housed a variety of thematic exhibits and representations of the different Soviet republics.
Moscow’s ‘Roman Forum’
Today, the Soviet-era accomplishments have been replaced in the pavilions by exhibition halls, shops and cafes. Muscovites wander the pathways of the renovated park or explore on rented bikes and scooters.
“The architectural ensemble of VDNKh still attracts a lot of visitors today. You might call it our ‘Roman Forum,’” said Semyon Mikhailovsky, rector of the St. Petersburg State Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and the commissioner of the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which focuses on VDNKh.
According to the curator of the exhibition, the five halls of the Russian pavilion in Venice will tell the story of VDNKh as a synthesis of different arts — from its establishment to the modern day — noting the leading architects, designers, sculptors and artists who contributed to the creation of the ensemble.
Keeping up with the latest styles
Most of the site’s pavilions were rebuilt several times in order to be in line with the latest architectural trends. The most significant shifts in the architecture of VDNKh happened in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the pavilions were handed over to government ministries and were altered to suit the current economic needs.
In most cases, the authorities tried to rectify what they perceived as “errors” of style. For instance, the “Ukraine” pavilion, designed by architect Alexei Tatsy, had been criticized heavily by the then-first secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party and future Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev back in the late 1940s, so its ceramic facades were eventually decorated with a floral relief and pilasters, and the building itself was adorned with statues of Soviet laborers, stained glass and a golden spire.
The “Volga Region” pavilion has been remade four times. In 1954, it was rebuilt in the Stalinist style, but just five years later it had to be converted into modernist style: the facade of the pavilion — renamed “Electronics” by then — was covered with metallic panels. In 2014, the VDNKh management decided to restore the pavilion to its original appearance, but the initiative was met with criticism from architects and city activists.
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