March 11, 2020

“Everyday Soviet” Exhibit At Zimmerli Art Museum

“SPUTNIK SAMOVAR”: This design by Konstantin Sobakin is featured in “Everyday Soviet: Soviet Industrial Design and Nonconformist Art” on view through May 17 at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers in New Brunswick. The exhibit explores Soviet design from the postwar era.

The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, in collaboration with the Moscow Design Museum, presents the first exhibition in the United States to explore Soviet industrial design from the postwar era. “Everyday Soviet: Soviet Industrial Design and Nonconformist Art” is on view through May 17.

While creative innovation in design flourished in the Soviet Union in the years between 1959 and 1989, limitations in both fabrication processes and consumer circulation resulted in production shortages and left many design ideas unmade. As an outcome, Soviet design from this period is globally largely unknown. “Everyday Soviet” explores the material culture of this period through more than 300 objects loaned from the Moscow Design Museum, including household objects, fashion, posters, and sketches of products and interiors. These objects are further juxtaposed with a selection of approximately 85 works of nonconformist or underground art of the time from the Zimmerli’s Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, offering a holistic examination of the ways in which design and art developed concurrently.

In the mid- to late-1950s, as the political climate softened and Soviet audiences were exposed to cultural movements from around the world through the First International Festival of Youth in Moscow (1957), new creative possibilities opened for both Soviet artists and designers. Additionally, two exhibitions on American Abstract Expressionism and American kitchen and household design, shown under the auspices of the American National Exhibition in Moscow Sokolniki Park that followed the Festival in 1959, left lasting impressions, inspiring in turn nonconformist art movements and product innovations. Ideas for new products and interior environments were developed in collaboration with manufacturers across the country as well as by individuals working independently. Projects were showcased in exhibitions, capturing the futuristic aesthetics and the range of artistic visions for building a modern socialist society. While the desire to realize new ideas was vast — and often supported by the state — designers faced many structural hurdles. Factories, in particular, resisted changes to their production lines, opting instead to replicate the same items for decades.

Since the public was not encouraged to replace old models with new ones, and because items generally were often in very short supply, consumers acquired limited goods and maintained them for years. As a result of this unique set of circumstances, design objects were imbued with significant cultural importance. Familiar objects, some unchanged for generations, penetrated people’s consciousness and inspired both personal and communal attachment and emotion.

“Everyday Soviet” features a selection of these preserved objects, including electronics, kitchenware, furniture, and wall decor, capturing a very particular moment in Soviet history. The exhibition also includes sketches and posters that highlight some of the idealized visions that were not realized in the era, including views of the office and home interiors of the future.

On April 7, the Zimmerli Art museum will show the film A History of Russian Design, which was produced by the Moscow Design Museum. The film recounts the history of Russian and Soviet design from the 1920s to the present. The program will begin at 6 p.m. and is free to the public.

The Zimmerli Art Museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. For more information, call (848) 932-7237 or visit