Work & Play Behind the Iron Curtain


When thinking about the Cold War and life in the Soviet Union, one often imagines a population paranoid, miserable and oppressed. Perhaps, given the extensive surveillance apparatus wielded by Western security services today, these are the aspects of Soviet society to which we can most easily relate. Work & Play Behind the Iron Curtain at GRAD gives us another alternative point of affinity with the Soviets: consumerism.

Why would a Soviet munitions company decide to diversify into the production of roly-poly dolls? The answer put forward by the curators at GRAD is that Nixon put Khrushchev up to it, following an exhibition of American consumer products. The exhibition includes various examples of Soviet domestic goods: bars of soap, soda fountains, record players, and so on. It also includes a brief history of the ZiL factory in Moscow where limousines were manufactured for the Party elites alongside trucks and military vehicles.

It is a small but thought provoking exhibition. Inevitably, one is left not only with a feeling of just how weird the Cold War was, but also host of unanswered questions: In the context of the Cold War, is a refrigerator more important that Sputnik? And today? Is a bar of "Natasha" soap ontologically different from a bar of "Imperial Leather?"

Work & Play Behind the Iron Curtain is at GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design until the 24th of August 2014.

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