The exhibition, entitled Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain, examines design in the Soviet Union from the 1917 Russian Revolution to the Perestroika restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system under Mikhail Gorbachev during the 1980s.
‘This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to examine everyday life, work and play in the Soviet Union, through the prism of its quirky yet iconic designs, be they quotidian items such as the Avoska string shopping bag or models for high-security military vehicles’, says the gallery.
More than 50 pieces will be on show, featuring the cute, strange and colourful designs that characterised Soviet life from the 1950s. Demonstrating the years before that will be a number of models and photographs from the ZIL factory, which was responsible for creating objects for the contrasting spheres of the home and the warzone – producing both armoured trucks and domestic appliances.
These included trucks and military vehicles, exclusive limousines for party officials, and the ZIL refrigerator, which the gallery says ‘became ubiquitous in Soviet homes, even if it often stood empty’.
According to GRAD, the boom in Soviet design was largely the result of the advent of khrushchevkas, or standardised apartment blocks, in the late 1950s. Following the creation of the new-builds, products from the Chaika vacuum cleaner and the Vyatka scooter to the Raketa wristwatch and the Nevalyashka roly-poly doll were put into development.
These will be displayed at the show alongside other examples of domestic appliances, food packaging, electronic devices, toys and sporting equipment, aiming to explore what GRAD terms a ‘lesser known side of Soviet society: consumerism and popular culture’.
The era’s countercultures didn’t entirely pass Russia by, either, as shown in the displays of bootlegged vinyl records of Russian and Western music banned by the state.
The gallery explains, ‘Ingeniously made using illegally obtained medical X-ray sheets, they featured fragmented images of human skeletons and were circulated secretly up to the mid-1960s.’
Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain runs from 20 June – 24 August at GRAD Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, 3-4a Little Portland Street, London W1W7JB