NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 41


Moscow Design Museum; First by Design

Olga Severina

Until recently Moscow was probably the only major city without a museum of design. That all changed in 2012 when Moscow Design Museum (MDM) opened its doors to the eager public. Making this museum a reality was an ambitious and fruitful journey.
For a long time, its founders saw a tremendous void in the cultural life of their country — a country of museums that rival the Louvre and Prada. There was no place to celebrate works of Russian design masters. In order to close that gap, a group of young people led by the current MDM Director Alexandra Sankova set themselves to the task of opening a design museum in Moscow.
Having plenty of ideas but short on funds, these people of unmistakable ingenuity and tenacious drive made a bold decision — they chose to house their first exhibition inside a moving bus. The simple concept of a mobile venue for a fast-paced life in a modern city quickly became popular among patrons of the arts. The bus offered many advantages over traditional museums — no need for stagnant showrooms that are impossible to book, or fancy galleries appealing to only the cream-of-the-crop. If you cannot come to the museum, the museum will come to you.
The traveling museum plans to visit festivals and marketplaces, and travel to provincial towns and metropolitan centers. Thus it is a true art house of the people, for it goes where the people are. Here you can see it parked in front of the famous Manezh Exhibition Hall. (Figure 1) MDM’s dynamic and vivid identity, which reflects its leading-edge concept of art-in-motion, was developed by an Amsterdam based creative agency LAVA.
Soon after opening, MDM became a permanent home to an extensive collection of works by 20th-century artists, but it stays true to its unique and innovative nature. Unlike a conventional museum, MDM is not your common exhibition hall with rooms full of art. Nor it is just a museum on wheels. Moscow Design Museum is much more than that. Inside its walls, alongside permanent expositions, the museum’s founders arrange rotating exhibits, organize lectures, distribute publications, and produce documentaries — making MDM a promotional vehicle that introduces the public to the latest trends in international design.
Unceasing creativity, infectious enthusiasm and the grueling labor of love are trademarks of the MDM team. Since opening just five years ago, the museum has held exhibitions in some of the greatest showrooms in the country. During that same time, Moscow Design Museum has been invited to the Week of Design in Beijing (China), Kunsthalle Exhibition Hall in Rotterdam (Netherlands), International Exhibition Expo 2015 in Milan (Spain), Brussels Design Museum in Brussels (Belgium) and Barbican Center, London (England) among many others.

An unconventional, well-defined and flawlessly executed idea is another trait of the Moscow Design Museum. Each art show demonstrates MDM team’s one-of-a-kind approach to content and presentation. One of the best examples of their design philosophies was seen at Discovering Utopia — an exhibition hosted by the London Design Biennale in 2016 — where MDM took home one of the three main prizes — an award for the best realization of the exhibit’s topic.
The first idea for the utopian theme was to present magnificent pieces by the early 20th-century avant-garde artists from the VKHUTEMAS workshops — a legendary design school founded in Moscow in 1920. However, there is nothing more stereotypical than the avant-garde movement when it comes to the subject of art and design in Russia, and so, the authors decided against that course of action.
The next strategy was to put together a timeline of all principal milestones in Russian design, from its early days to the present. The proposed exhibit would feature works of constructivist artists whose aspirations were never realized, followed by the futuristic concepts from National Scientific Research Institute of Industrial Aesthetics (VNIITE) and concluded with works by contemporary Russian designers. The whole layout was worked out in detail, but authors scrapped this idea as well since artworks by modern-day designers would not fit with the Utopian motif of the exhibition.
The final presentation was inspired by VNIITE — a renowned school of design, whose visual aesthetics helped shape the image of Soviet design in the 20th century. MDM’s team decided to expose visitors of the Biennale to a never-before-seen collection of MDM’s own unique archives of VNIITE’s R&D projects from the 1960s–1980s. The show’s installation was assembled to reconstruct workshops in the post-war Soviet research institute with lightboxes of digitized pieces — models, blueprints, photos and drawings of potential consumer goods (few of which actually became merchandise), while a vast majority of them never even passed the prototype stage. The showroom captured the atmosphere of day-to-day operations in Soviet art and design bureaus, where daring innovations were often well beyond the manufacturing capabilities of the time, giving the installation a truly utopian feel.

Another illustration of MDM staying true to its goal of preserving and promoting Russian creative legacy is an exhibit called Paper Revolution. This international exposition that toured all over Russia, Germany, and Belgium was dedicated to a 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution — one of the most controversial and consequential uprisings in the country’s history — which forged the entire foundation of the modern Russia.
During the Russian Revolution, the old world came crashing down to give rise to a brand new society that grew on top of the burning ashes of a decaying regime. The entire country was renewed, and from this ever-changing landscape emerged an entirely new visual language know today as Russian Constructivism.
Its disciples declared war on conventional art. “Art is dead!” proclaimed the advocates for the Constructivist movement, looking for brand new ways of expression. They saw the arts as pure means for commodity-focused craftsmanship and an artist as merely a producer. Constructivist workshops brought forth revolutionary designs for new, minimalistic furniture pieces and architectural drawings, household items and articles of clothing, graphic arts and illustration.
However, an average consumer was not ready for this aesthetic revolution that was taking place in the art world, which in a blink of an eye turned into an art industry and the great creative innovations of Russian applied arts never materialized into actual everyday objects.
The one exception to this was the realm of the printed medium. This is where the aesthetic revolution thrived — publishing institutions simply erupted with an abundance of experimental, often radical changes that swept across propaganda posters and stage models, construction blueprints and type designs. The printed image was king! It was not just accepted — it was in constant and high demand, circulating in huge numbers all over Russia. That is why the authors titled their design expo Paper Revolution.

This exhibition showcased a grand collection of books and magazines, stamps and postcards, archival photos and billboard ads, drawings and packaging materials by such giants of Russian constructivism as Rodchenko, Stepanova, Klutsis, the Stenberg brothers, Lissitzky, and Gan. The installation was divided into sections, where each stand was dedicated to a specific area of visual expression: visitors could view historical photo montages, discover Anonymous Constructivism, celebrate the Triumph of Typography, as well as explore other segments devoted to what will become a foundation of modern graphic design.
Another topic often explored by the MDM team is the subject of forgotten treasures in Russia’s creative history. Moscow Design Museum hosts a number of art shows that expose the public to obscure and often neglected areas of th eRussian visual arts. The History of the Soviet Cinema in Movie Posters. 1919–1991 is an exhibit that chronicles the evolution of the motion picture poster, which encompassed some of the most imaginative concepts in promotional graphics of the time. New Olds is an exposition that showcases a collection of furniture pieces, light fixtures, and ceramics whose authors drew their inspirations from age-old woodworking techniques, blacksmith crafts, pottery and textile fashions, thus extending the interconnections of the traditional and ultra-modern elements in various design trends. Sport-Cult is an art show that introduces the viewers to various aspects of sporting memorabilia from the former USSR: from uniforms and fabrics to paintings, graphics, posters, and photographs as well as replayed real newsreel clips of once popular athlete's parades and memorable sporting events. Auto-Poster is a presentation dedicated to art and design in the Russian transportation industry that features endorsement posters, miniature models of legendary Soviet cars and buses, archival news footage and promotional ads of the Soviet period. 

Immediately after its opening, Moscow Design Museum became a wonderful addition to the fabric of Russian and international design. MDM’s team has great aspirations for the future, like its Design for Dignity exhibit that is scheduled to open in Moscow in 2018. The authors aim to illustrate how compassionate and ergonomic design can change the lives of people with disabilities and their loved ones for the better. We wish the MDM staff to have more of these remarkable endeavors and hope that they will all be met with equal success.

©Moscow Design Museum 

Olga Severina

A Ukrainian graphic designer, Olga Severina obtained her Ph.D. in Visual Arts in 2010. Olga is an author, whose articles on the history and contemporary trends in graphic design are published in magazines around the world. Over the years her works were featured in a variety of design competitions and campaigns: Biennale Golden Bee (Russia), Warsaw Poster Biennale (Poland), International Poster Biennale (Mexico) and Mayakovsky 120 poster campaign are to name a few.  Olga Severina was always an active participant in the design community. In 2006 she became involved with an International Eco-Poster Exhibition The 4th Block (Ukraine), where she currently serves as the exhibition curator.  In her more recent ventures Olga focuses on art shows that celebrate design and promote balance between nature and men in the United States.

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