A Soviet Design for Life

Design by Rozhnovskii

Unrealised design by V.S. Rozhnovskii for a monument to Lenin in the port of Leningrad, 1935

The University Library is delighted to launch our latest major exhibition, opening to the public today. A Soviet Design for Life: The Catherine Cooke Collection of 20th-century Russian Architecture and Design is one of the more eclectic exhibitions of recent years, including materials ranging from hotel floorplans and propaganda posters to cigar boxes and 3D images. The architect Catherine Cooke died tragically young in 2004, and left her remarkable collection to the University Library. This exhibition brings it to the public for the first time.

Catherine Cooke lived for many years in Russia and her interest in art, architecture and design led her to begin what would become a truly outstanding collection of books, posters, postcards, photographs and ephemera; anything which had what she considered to be an interesting or distinctive design element. Her personal interests lay in the avant-garde, Constructivism and urban design, and she wrote many books and created exhibitions based on these areas.  The heart of her collection was the study of architecture, and the exhibition includes a wide range of books and print materials on this subject.

What is unique about this collection, however, are the day-to-day objects she collected; the metro maps, rationing coupons, bookmarks and envelopes which were used by the Russian people across much of the twentieth century. These are the kind of materials that are usually thrown away, but for Catherine they helped tell the tale of changing ideals and artistic beliefs, and so she carefully preserved them. The exhibition shows a wide variety of these different styles,  from early imagery of the hard-working Soviet figure in the factory or the field, to the more contemporary design of a 1980s architecture journal.

Amongst the most stunning items on display are two very large-format posters, one of which has survived nearly a century since its creation. The first shows the optimism of post-War Soviet Russia, with a young architect designing the buildings of the future. The other, dating from 1925, is the work of a prolific artist who is, however, identified only by his initials on the poster itself. Through a combination of research and good luck the Library has been able to make contact with the artist’s family,  who sent an image of a sketch design for the poster which was in a family archive. The two items side by side show remarkable similarities – but also certain dramatic differences. We encourage you to view them displayed side by side for the first time.

Cambridge University Library Exhibition Centre, 4 July 2012 until 6 April 2013. Monday-Friday 9am-6pm, Saturday 9am-4.30pm. Admission free. For more information, visit the exhibition website at www.lib.cam.ac.uk/exhibitions/Cooke .

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