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Design and material culture in Soviet Russia, 1960s–80s
Author: Yulia Karpova

The major part of this book project was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 700913.

This book is about two distinct but related professional cultures in late Soviet Russia that were concerned with material objects: industrial design and decorative art. The Russian avant-garde of the 1920s is broadly recognised to have been Russia’s first truly original contribution to world culture. In contrast, Soviet design of the post-war period is often dismissed as hackwork and plagiarism that resulted in a shabby world of commodities. This book identifies the second historical attempt at creating a powerful alternative to capitalist commodities in the Cold War era. It offers a new perspective on the history of Soviet material culture by focusing on the notion of the ‘comradely object’ as an agent of progressive social relations that state-sponsored Soviet design inherited from the avant-garde. It introduces a shared history of domestic objects, handmade as well as machine-made, mass-produced as well as unique, utilitarian as well as challenging the conventional notion of utility. Situated at the intersection of intellectual history, social history and material culture studies, this book elucidates the complexities and contradictions of Soviet design that echoed international tendencies of the late twentieth century. The book is addressed to design historians, art historians, scholars of material culture, historians of Russia and the USSR, as well as museum and gallery curators, artists and designers, and the broader public interested in modern aesthetics, art and design, and/or the legacy of socialist regimes.

Yulia Karpova

) production. Neodecorativism signalled design professionals’ disappointment with the populist aspirations of the Khrushchev era and, evidently, their tiredness with the role of regulators of mass tastes and consumption patterns. Turning from regulation to reflection, decorative artists broadened the borders of good taste, and reconsidered the relationship between people and things in the age of people’s growing dependence on machines. However, these artists also marked a new social distinction based on post-functionalist aesthetics – a distinction not only from their

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

table-top refrigerators. While the demand for high-capacity refrigerators grew in the US and Western Europe, such models were unsuitable for the small kitchens of Soviet prefabricated flats. They also did not correspond to the modular structure that was established in the Soviet furniture industry. In addition, Soviet refrigerators had a greater weight per volume and mostly lacked temperature regulators, door-opening pedals, auto-defrost and moveable shelves. Moreover, they often had technical deficiencies. KARPOVA 9781526139870 PRINT.indd 128 20/01/2020 11

in Comradely objects