Now open at Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemuseum, Retrotopia: Design for Socialist Spaces is “a collaborative exhibition project that looks at the role and influence of design in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc and former Yugoslavia between the 1950s and the 1980s.” The exhibit features photographs, objects, and recreations of designed spaces from throughout the Soviet bloc, and includes many designs that never made it past the concepting and drafting phases.
MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE IN Berlin is, understandably, a subject heavy with the weight of history. The decades spent rebuilding from the devastation of WWII while split down the middle by two hostile powers meant that, for many building projects, aesthetics played a distant secondary role to functionality. Nonetheless, the severely limited building resources of both East and West did not stop the proliferation of bold, elegant Modernist constructions on both sides of the Wall. With entire neighborhoods in ruins and a postwar population in desperate need of housing and infrastructure, the buildings would be build regardless; the question for posterity was who could transcend the limited resources provided and make a lasting aesthetic impression on the cityscape.
IMMEDIATELY UPON ITS completion in 1970, Berlin’s Haus der Statistik (which stood north of Alexanderplatz in the shadow of the just-built Fernsehturm) took its place as one of the central organs of the GDR state apparatus. With the collection of data and statistics for all of East Germany as its goal, the eleven-story complex housed numerous bureaucratic units, including several floors of Stasi offices. Its street-level businesses were the ultimate in urbane GDR style, hosting two lounges (Jagdklause and the fabulously named Mocca-Eck), a hunting/fishing shop, and Natascha, a boutique offering the latest Soviet imports.
BARBARA LONDON’S VIDEO/ART: The First Fifty Years is both a personal memoir and a history of an artistic medium from its genesis to the present. The effortlessness with which these two undertakings coexist is a testament to London’s lifelong commitment to her subject matter: as the founder of NY MOMA’s video programs, she was instrumental in bringing a once-underground art form into the broader establishment.
New York in the 1970s was arguably the global epicenter of the fledgling new art form, with artists such as Nam June Paik, Beryl Korot, and Mary Lucier at the forefront.
THE ROOTS OF Russian Cosmism lie in the transcendental utopian writings of the 19th-century philosopher Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov, who advocated for, among other things, the exploration of space and a literal overcoming of death. Inextricably tied to the Russian Revolution and the rise of the USSR, Cosmism promoted broad ideals that mirrored the heart of Communism: that humanity should collectively strive to transcend the petty, temporary, and mundane.