Dezeen Magazine

Cooper Union Building

Cooper Union's controversial Vkhutemas exhibition to open "later this spring"

New York's Cooper Union has announced that an exhibition on Soviet-era architecture will open later this year following its postponement due to concerns related to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The decision came after 12 days of deliberation between acting dean Hayley Eberm, exhibitions committee chair Alexander Tochilovsky, the student body and the community at large.

After the deliberation, the institution announced in a joint statement the rescheduling of the exhibition for later this spring, though an official date was not announced.

Context to be added to the exhibition

Along with the decision to reschedule the exhibition, the school noted that additional context will be added.

"The Cooper Union will open the exhibition later this spring, supported by additional contextualizing material that will provide different frameworks for understanding these issues and the exhibition's original pedagogical research and intent," said the school.

In addition to the contextual material, the school will hold a series of discussions with students as well as a public roundtable "to unpack the multidimensional issues relating to the exhibition and its presentation."

These issues include "the importance of uncovering a history lost to political suppression and an exploration of how histories can be instrumentalized for political gain today".

Co-curated by Anna Bokov and Steven Hillyer, Vkhutemas: Laboratory of the Avant-Garde, 1920-1930 was supposed to open in the late January, but was postponed by the school after an op-ed written by scholar Peder Anker in the magazine Archinect was critical of the exhibition's timing.

The op-ed was amended by Archinect due to concerns over the accuracy of the statements therein and Anker's personal relationship with Bokob.

However, Archinect defended the article's critique of the exhibition in general, citing "countless precedent" for the suspension of Russia-related events being cancelled following the invasion.

Cooper Union's decision to postpone the opening drew criticism from the architectural community at large. A Google Document-generated letter with unverified signatures from members of the architectural community circulated, critiquing the decision as an "impingement of academic freedom".

Cooper Union defended the decision, citing "anger over what was perceived as a celebration of Russia's contribution" for its postponement.

"Design and building not the end point"

Following the decision to open in later this spring Cooper Union acknowledged the opportunity for discussion that the controversy around the exhibition highlighted.

"At its core, The Cooper Union has always been a forum for public discourse and dialogue addressing the challenges and opportunities of our time," said the school.

"The School of Architecture encourages students to investigate the role of the architect and the societal, environmental, and political implications of their work and, in doing so, reinforces the notion that design and building are not just the end point of set ideas, but can often themselves prompt constructive debate and critical discourse."

The exhibition grew out of seminars led by Bokov on the history of Vkhutemas, a Russian design collective that was shut down by Soviet Union premier Joseph Stalin in the 1930s.