Vkhutemas: Laboratory of the Avant-Garde, 1920-1930
Artist: Cooper Union students
Date of Action: January-February 2023
Region: North America
Location: New York, NY
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Confronting Bodies: Cooper Union
Description of Artwork: Cooper Union planned to open an exhibit titled Vkhutemas: Laboratory of the Avant-Garde, 1920-1930, its subject a tution-free art school also known as the "Soviet Bauhaus." The exhibition features students' work based on the Vkhutemas. The school was founded in 1920 in Moscow and encouraged curriculum with experimental and open-ended inquiries from the students.
The Incident: Four days before the opening, Peder Anker, an environmental-science historian and NYU Gallatin professor, published an op-ed on Archinect, an architecture blog, titled "The Cooper Union Promotes Russian Architecture. Why?". He referred to the exhibition as "Russian propaganda" and explained that one of the curators responsible for the exhibit's father was a "Putin insider." Archinect removed sections of the op-ed days later explaining that it could have been potentially defamatory. Anker encouraged Cooper Union to terminate the exhibition and the related course on Russian and Soviet Union architecture, citing its insensitivity considering the Russian war with Ukraine and the school being located in the Ukrainian Village.
Many people commented on Cooper Union's Facebook page after the release of Anker's op-ed piece. People complained that the exhibition was disrespectful and that rather Ukrainian architecture should be shown.
Results of Incident: Hours before the opening, the school announced that the exhibition would be postponed, explaining that the school needed to stand in solidarity with Ukrainians and that this exhibit went against that goal. Acting dean Hayley Eber announced that the article sparked further discussion on the matter within the Cooper Union community, but it was not the only reason for the postponement.
A letter condemning the college's decision has over 750 signatories. Cooper Union announced that they are still continuing conversations with Ukrainian members of the community to determine the most thoughtful and sensitive ways to moved forward.