Exhibiting USSR in Construction today: from aestheticized politics to politicized aesthetics

From 1930 till 1941, the journal USSR in Construction [СССР на стройке] was published in the Soviet Union and abroad. Created by esteemed artists like Aleksandr Rodchenko and El Lissitzky, it informed a Soviet and international audience on the technological advances of the Soviet Union. Modernist in form, it was Stalinist in content. ‘Modernist in form’ and ‘Stalinist in content’ became separated over time, the historiography on the journal shows. The art historical approach focussed on the formal qualities of the journal, while the historical approach concentrated on the concealed horrors and terrors. Recently, these two sides clashed in various exhibitions, amongst other in the Van Abbemuseum (Rood! Heilstaatvisioenen uit de Sovjet-Unie, 2016). Historians criticized the exhibition, politicizing the aestheticized politics anew.

The exhibitions provided historical context, but didn’t explain how the artists of USSR in Construction dealt with the ideology they displayed. This can be placed in a broader context of the debate on visual culture and ideological propaganda. The goal of this project is therefore to create a well-grounded analysis of USSR in Construction that examines how experimental forms and dictatorial ideologies reinforced each other. It thereby contributes to the on-going debate on how visual ideological propaganda was created, remembered, and can be displayed today.


Michelle de Wit completed the research master Arts and Culture: Art Studies at the University of Amsterdam in 2017. Here project for the Deviant Programme is a continuation of her MA thesis, in which she focused on the presentation of Alexandr Rodchenko’s Gulag photomontages for the journal USSR in Construction in Dutch museums today. Michelle currently works as a freelance researcher, with a specific focus on art and politics.

Photo of Michelle de WitPhoto of Michelle de Wit