Vkhutemas Exhibition Postponed

POSTED ON: January 17, 2023

In 2019, a group of Cooper Union architecture students began an examination of Vkhutemas, a lost-to-history, interdisciplinary, design school in Russia that existed more than 100 years ago. From an historical perspective, the school’s approach to pedagogy was the first major attempt to democratize design education; there was no tuition and universal teaching methods were being developed and utilized based on scientific discovery and artistic experimentation. The school was shut down after 10 years by Joseph Stalin, effectively erasing its contributions to the field. The resulting work of the Cooper Union students emerged as a peer review of sorts, crossing two centuries, and was developed as an exhibition, Vkhutemas: Laboratory of the Avant-Garde, 1920-1930, due to open this week in the Houghton Gallery.

The exhibition of student research and architecture studio work examine a specific moment in architectural history from the 1920s against the context of the sociopolitical conditions and cultural affairs of that time. As this exhibition would be experienced amidst the present-day conditions, it has generated concerns and started instructive dialogue. We are grateful to our colleagues of Ukrainian descent who are helping us to work through this matter as we seek to balance, with accuracy and sensitivity, the scholarly study of architectural history amidst the current atrocities being exacted on the people of Ukraine by the Russian government. The complexities of the world’s geopolitical landscape have been compounded in the last year by the horror of Russia’s ruthless, oppressive campaign – a campaign that we and people and governments the world over rightly continue to denounce.

We have made the decision to postpone the opening of the exhibition to provide us with the time and space to fully consider these concerns and to make an informed decision on moving forward. If you were planning to attend tonight’s opening event, we appreciate your support and hope you understand this decision. It is important for us to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and our own Ukrainian community members and neighbors as we thoughtfully explore our next steps.

Sincerely,

Hayley Eber, Acting Dean
Alexander Tochilovsky, Exhibition Committee Chair

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.