In January 2020, Moscow saw the opening of the first exhibition on the history of Russian design “WORLD! PEACE! DESIGN!”. This exhibition marks the opening of the new home for Moscow Design Museum at the New Tretyakov Gallery. Elena met with Alexandra Sankova, the founder, to find out more about the extraordinary journey of the Moscow Design Museum. This is Part 2 of the interview, you can read Part 1 here.

Elena Shampanova: Please tell us about your experience of being a designer, a curator, a museum director, a woman, a mother… Do you know how this compares to the experience of your international colleagues in similar roles?

Alexandra Sankova: There is always much work to do, and sometimes I fail to keep my balance. My parents help me a lot, so I have the opportunity to do the job I love. Engaging in a child’s education, taking him to numerous classes is also hard work. But as for the Moscow Design Museum, I can’t even call it work … This is my life. Several times a year I meet with my colleagues, these are directors of museums from different countries, mostly women, and many of them have already got grown-up children. I cannot imagine how European women manage to raise kids, considering the fact that in Europe grandparents rarely babysit children.

Alexandra Sankova, Director of Moscow Design Museums. Photo by Alexandra Nikonovich.

As far as I know, there are two private design museums In Europe: the London Design Museum (UK) and the Vitra Design Museum (Switzerland). These are institutions that must earn their own living, and they are incredibly active commercially: they sell touring exhibitions, hold commercially successful exhibitions in the museum, and work very seriously with sponsors. But these organizations are run by men, not women.

The Moscow Design Museum is also a private cultural institution, but Russian investors still don’t understand how important it is to support design. We have been working as volunteers for many years explaining to everyone what design is and why it is needed. I see that more and more young educated people are now taking senior positions in large companies, and I hope we will finally find permanent sponsors for the museum. After all, we possess a collection and experience which are absolutely unique.

Elena Shampanova: You now have this amazing partnership with the New Tretyakov gallery, your new home, how does it feel to finally have a dedicated venue for the museum?

It is an honour for us to become partners with the State Tretyakov Gallery. Zelfira Tregulova has given us with our own space, because design should be accepted as part of the material and artistic culture in our country. The fact that design is now being shown at the New Tretyakov Gallery is absolutely logical, as first Russian designers were avant-garde artists and their works form a part of the State Tretyakov Gallery collection. Exhibiting them in the context of the history of Russian design will provide a new perspective on the art works that have already become classics, and emphasize their influence on Russian and international design of the 20th century.

Poster for “PEACE! FRIENDSHIP! DESIGN! The history of Russian Industrial Design” exhibition

In January 2020, we opened the first exhibition on design in the New Tretyakov Gallery. The “WORLD! PEACE! DESIGN! The History of Russian Industrial Design” exhibition is dedicated to design of civilian products manufactured by military industries. The exhibition tells the story of Russian industrial design in the 1950–2020s. It showcases more than 300 design objects and consists of 11 sections: aviation and astronautics, automobiles, bicycles and motorcycles, water transport, industry equipment, tools and equipment, medical equipment, electronics, optics, sports, and household items. The exhibits illustrate the way space and military technologies were gradually applied, through conversion, for civilian purposes. From 1960s, all Soviet military factories were obliged to produce civilian products. This largely predetermined the development of product design in the USSR.

Shot from documentary “History of Russian Design”, episode “Soviet Design 1960-80”

At the exhibition we show designs for products manufactured at Soviet factories and plants: models of airplanes and vehicles, snowmobiles, prototypes of radio equipment, photo and film equipment, household appliances, toys and many other works. Among objects there is a model of Olympic flame cup designed for the 1980 Olympics by Alexey Sergeyev from Tupolev Design Bureau, ­one of the authors of the interior of the TU-144 aircraft; an electric samovar “Sputnik” (designed by Konstantin Sobakin); a three-legged chair designed following the drawings for “Simple Satellite-1”; a vase from a sleeve produced at one of the Ural plants; a PD-47 parachute, used in 1955 by the astronaut Yuri Gagarin to jump from a height of 800 meters. Modern Russian design is represented by the latest developments and futuristic projects: mock-ups of airplanes and concept cars, a Kalashnikov motorcycle and four-wheeler, innovative medical equipment and communication tools. PJSC Promsvyazbank, being the bank that supports defence industry complex and encourages high-tech industry and culture, became the general sponsor of this exhibition.

Photos from “PEACE! FRIENDSHIP! DESIGN! The history of Russian Industrial Design” exhibition at the New Tretyakov, cMoscow Design Museum

Elena Shampanova: What are the museum’s plans for the future?

Alexandra Sankova: In April 2020, we are going to present the “Fantastic Plastic” exhibition, and afterwards we will open our permanent exhibition and design library. The “Fantastic Plastic” exhibition features design objects made from recycled plastic by more than 40 Russian and foreign designers. These are both realized projects and experimental ideas for plastic reuse – objects and photographs of objects made from recycled plastic. The projects, despite their diversity in scale, technique and functions, share the same idea: their authors refer to recycled plastic as an ideal material, convenient to work with and providing unlimited opportunities for bringing creative ideas to life. The exhibition is aimed at raising public and experts’ awareness of the possibilities of plastic reuse, introducing the visitors to the international experience in this area, and drawing their attention to the importance of careful consumption and recycling.

“FANTASTIC PLASTIC” exhibition at “Arsenal”, Nizhny Novgorod

It is not just possible, but necessary to recycle plastic. It can become the main basic material of the 21st century. Scientists, designers and architects have developed various technologies for plastic waste recycling to produce many useful items – and this is just the beginning of the way to introduce plastic as utility waste. There are designs made from recycled plastic bottles, caps, disposable plates and cups. Each recycled material has its own special properties but the main thing is that all of them can help to create long-life objects: boards for moorings or even roof tiles from recycled plastic will serve for more than 100 years.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive educational program, which includes master-classes on creative methods of waste recycling and lectures by Russian and international artists and designers on environmental design and ways of working with recycled plastics. The traveling version of this exhibition has already been shown in many cities of Russia – Nizhny Novgorod, Perm, Ufa, Voronej – and will travel to Tomsk in summer 2020.

Alexandra Sankova giving a lecture “ECOLOGICAL DESIGN” as part of “FANTASTIC PLASTIC” exhibition in the Museum of contemporary art PERMM, Perm

We are finalising our permanent exhibition “The History of Russian Design. Selected works” at the NEw Tretyakov that will be made up of three sections. Each section will be dedicated to an important stage in the history of Russian design: Constructivism (1917-1925), Soviet period (1950-1980) and modern design (1990-2017). The exhibition will show the continuity and development of design in our country; it is an excellent educational project, that is well-structured and will be of interest to audiences of different ages. It will incorporate different areas of design: product design, fashion, industrial design, textiles, automotive design, graphic design. For the exhibition, we have selected most significant projects created by Russian designers in the past 100 years.

Exhibition “HISTORY OF RUSSIAN DESIGN 1917-2017”, Voronezh Regional Art Museum. “Chess Table”, Designed by Alexander Rodchenko, 1925

In our country, even designers themselves have rather vague knowledge of the history of Russian design. Its history started at the age of constructivism. Famous artists – Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissitzky, Varvara Stepanova – declared the beginning of the “new art” and new material world. Objects and graphic works created by constructivists received awards at international exhibitions, and that was a period of incredible success of Soviet design. In the 1960s, specialist art and design bureaus and research institutes responsible for various areas of design were established in the USSR. The coordinating organization was the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Technical Aesthetics (VNIITE), which was in charge of the state design system throughout the country. The theoretical framework of VNIITE was unique and one of the solidest in the world. Today, our specialists receive international recognition, awards at exhibitions and contracts with Western firms. Many of them turn to traditions and Russian design legacy, because it is impossible to move forward without knowing the past.

Elena Shampanova: What was the Russian design community response to your idea of the museum? How has it evolved with time? What about international design community?

The response in Russia was very positive! Designers of all ages willingly donated their works to the museum. Based on these gifts, we were able to put together an exhibition that I am most proud of – “The History of Russian Design 1917–2017”. Now, thanks to the financial assistance of the Sibur Company, the exhibition is travelling across Russia and has already been shown in Tobolsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Tyumen, Nizhnevartovsk, Tolyatti, Voronezh, and Krasnoyarsk.

In January 2020, we launched on our YouTube channel the documentaries “The History of Russian Design” that we produced together with Svetlana Chirkova as a scriptwriter. They are now being watched all across Russia, and we know from our colleagues that they are already being used as educational material for students in universities and colleges. We have translated them into English and will gladly present them to media libraries of foreign arts and crafts and design museums, as well as to professional design schools.

Image for documentary “History of Russian Design”

The Moscow Design Museum represented Russian Federation at the 1st London Design Biennale in 2016. The installation was dedicated to the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Technical Aesthetics (VNIITE). Thanks in large part to this project, which was highly appreciated by our colleagues, we managed to fulfil our long-cherished dream – to publish a book about VNIITE. It was co-authored with Olga Druzhinina and published in London by Unit Editions. The book features archival materials that were presented to us by former VNIITE employees. We are happy that Western publishers have an interest in what we are doing. This book is the first global review of activities of the leading research institute specializing in technical aesthetics (“technical aesthetics” stood for “design” in the USSR). Our project “Discovering Utopia. Lost Archives of Soviet Design ” was awarded Grand Prix.

London Design Biennale “Utopia Medal” awarded to Moscow Design for their stand “Utopia: Lost Archives of Soviet Design”. Left to right: Olga Druzhinika, Alexandra Sankova, Stepan Lukjanov, Natalia Goldstein.

We are now working on new publications and dream of finding a partner to publish the book “Design System in the USSR”, that will include a huge amount of visual and research material. We are also preparing a new exhibition “Design for Dignity”, that is an international project meant to demonstrate how designers from different countries approach life support problems, help make life easier for people with disabilities, the elderly and people with various diseases. These are plans for 2021, and we are looking for manufacturers and design studios from different countries, who are working in that direction.

We are grateful to our Western partners for supporting us, being interested in our research and projects, and constantly offering us collaborations. We are happy to accept their proposals as we have so many unique materials that have never been shown in other countries. Every publication and every exhibition abroad brings us new contacts and projects. We are extremely interested in working with Western museums, studying their curatorial and research approaches, and exchanging experiences.