Worker and Kolkhoz Woman | A disassembled monument

Worker and Kolkhoz Woman is a 24.5 meter (78 feet) high sculpture made from stainless steel by Vera Mukhina for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, and subsequently moved to Moscow. The sculpture is an example of the socialist realistic style, as well as Art Deco style. The worker holds aloft a hammer and the kolkhoz woman a sickle to form the hammer and sickle symbol.

We can read at Mukhina biography:

Her most celebrated work is the giant monument Worker and Kolkhoz Woman which was the centerpiece of the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris. The 24-meter-tall, 75-ton sculpture was made of sheets of stainless steel connected together with an innovative method of spot welding. One hand of each figure holds respectively a hammer and a sickle, the two implements joining to form the hammer and sickle symbol of the Soviet Union. In 1947 the sculpture, now installed at the All-Russia Exhibition Centre (then “All-Soviet…”), became the symbol of the Russian Mosfilm studio.

As the book Art and Power: Europe under the dictators refers, “Mukhina was inspired by her study of the classical Harmodius and Aristogeiton, the Victory of Samothrace and La Marseillaise, François Rude’s sculptural group for the Arc de Triomphe, to bring a monumental composition of socialist realist confidence to the heart of Paris. The symbolism of the two figures striding from East to West, as determined by the layout of the pavilion, was also not lost by spectators.”

The monument was adopted as the Mosfilm [a leading Russian film studio] logo in 1947 and now we can read that it’s the ultimate symbol of Soviet realism. This drives us to think about the meaning of symbolic architecture, as Hugh Pearman [aka @Archispeak] was discussing via twitter, when he asks “What’s the most useless (meaning entirely symbolic) building ever?”

Some people wonders about the renovation of the monument:

was it really worth it to spend six years of renovators’ time and over a billion rubles to resurrect this symbol of the past? The grand re-opening of the monument was attended by hundreds of people, marked with fireworks and festivities. But, why all the buzz about the seemingly retrograde monument?

Charles Jencks pointed in the 1980s that symbolic architecture was that kind of architecture with a strong degree of personification or with allusions to cultural ideas and historical references, and in that sense we can say that Worker and Kolkhoz Woman and almost all symbolic architecture have a cultural meaning that never dies, is part of the hystorical memory of a place. We don’t have to mix up political thoughts with “cultural memory” and some of these monuments represents a whole era of the 20th Century. Let’s think about it: are they completely useless, as Pearman says? Or maybe they simply have some emotional meanings that goes beyond our architectural understanding.

The monument has been restored and returned to its place at the All-Russia Exhibition Center in Moscow. Images from the monument under reconstruction can ve visited here. All images in this post taken from EnglishRussia

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