Back to the Future on the Moscow Metro

Performers in Mayakovskaya Metro station*

Moscow’s Mayakovskaya metro station underwent a strange transformation last weekend. After closing to passengers at 2 am, the station was flooded with beaming young athletes, idealistic airplane pilots, determined factory workers and the whole cast of characters from Stalin’s USSR. Multi-billionaire Vladimir Potanin paid for the invite-only performance. It is a part of his ongoing support for the legacy of Soviet artist Alexander Deyneka, whose mosaics adorn the station’s ceiling.

The station, completed in 1938, is a prime example of Stalinist architecture. It has soaring ceilings, arches and columns, marble walls and floors and 34 beautiful ceiling mosaics by Deyneka.

The Wall Street Journal Published a piece on the performance. In it they suggest that the happening invokes the time of the station’s completion – the late 1930’s. Looking through more complete coverage of the event from Комсомольская Правда, however, it seems to me that the performance didn’t so much invoke the historical past, as the imagined future of Deyneka’s mosaics. There isn’t a frowning face among the actors, no one hungry, no one idle. The performance channels Deyneka’s vision of  limitless energy and enthusiasm for the construction of a new society.

So is Potanin a leftist, advocating, through this performance, a return to egalitarian ideals? Certainly not. One of Russia’s richest oligarchs, he’s practically a poster-boy for the shady authoritarian capitalism of modern Russia. And the performance, after all, was an exclusive event, closed to the public.

The performance brings Deyneka’s world to life, but leaves behind its idealism. The pilots, athletes and workers are seen through a cynically nostalgic lens by a cultured, bourgeoise audience. Unlike Deyneka’s mosaics, this piece of art is not meant to inspire or motivate the masses, but to amuse the elite. If it attempts any social commentary, it’s only that time travel is impossible. There is no way to return to the shining future that never was.

You can see 34 of the original 36 mosaics here.

*Image courtesy of Комсомольская Правда

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Author: Barry O'Keefe

Artist/printmaker from Richmond, Va

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