A Stalinist era fairgrounds in Moscow, known as the Soviet Versailles, is being revived as a park and cultural centre, and the redevelopment will be the focus of the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, which opens in May. But the project has been seen by some as an attempt to rehabilitate Stalin’s image and cultural ideals.
Last week, Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin unveiled the restoration of a high-relief mural sculpture from the 1950s that had been hidden for decades behind a wall of the Central Pavilion. Titled Glory to the Soviet People—the Standard Bearer of Peace, the work is by one of the Soviet Union’s most famous monumental sculptors. “Yevgeny Vuchetich’s works are part of the golden pool of our nation’s art,” Sobyanin said at the event.
The fairground complex, known by its Russian acronym VDNKh (pronounced vehdehenkha), was created under Stalin to exalt Soviet economic achievements. In the 1990s, VDNKh became a flea market and fell into disrepair. An exhibition devoted to artists of the 1930s-50s who worked on the historic site was held recently at its Central Pavilion. Other spaces, such as the Cosmos Pavilion, are being restored to their original state.
The most controversial new addition to VDNKh is the creation of a “history park” called Russia—My History, comprising three multimedia exhibitions curated by Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov, a Russian Orthodox monk known for his close ties to the Kremlin. It includes a section on Stalin that praises some of his accomplishments. Shevkunov told an Orthodox news website that “it is possible to give [Stalin] his due as a statesman while speaking at the same time about the violence and crimes that were taking place in the country”.