VDNKh as seen by its first visitors in 1939

October 19, 2019

Over the eight decades, the chief exhibition of Russia has seen a lot: it survived the war and post-war reconstruction, renovation of pavilions in accordance with the Resolution of the Central Committee of the CPSU 'On the Elimination of Design and Construction Excesses' in the 1950s, and the period of their transformation into trade outlets in the 1990s, five renamings and finally revival, which began in the spring of 2014. Now, thanks to the efforts of restorers, we know what was its original appearance conceived by the architects of the Soviet era.

Chief symbols of the exhibition

Northern entrance arch was the first facility to welcome visitors to the exhibition in 1939. And now it is the only almost perfectly survived site, renovated in 2016-2017.

After the restoration, completed in 2009, the Worker and the Collective Farm Woman sculpture by Vera Mukhina has also regained its original appearance. It was installed on the pavilion being a replica of the one presented at the 1937 Paris International Exposition. Today, it houses a Lecture Hall, one of the venues of VDNKh's educational program. It hosts lectures, master classes, seminars and exhibitions. In summer, you can take a closer look at the famous sculpture and admire the Moscow panorama from its rooftop.

Village Innovations

In 1939, the 'Village Innovations' display opened in the northern part of VDNKh. The complex of buildings represented a showcase village with stables, cowsheds, silos, garages, tractor workshops and other facilities typical for rural life, which later became standard. Of some 60 buildings, only few have survived.  The buildings of the former public nursery (office building 323), maternity hospital (building 173) and Village Council (building 172) have been overhauled, but they are still closed.

The former Collective Farm Club (Pavilion No.421) today houses the Wedding Palace, with recreation rooms, a guest area, a Marriage Registration Hall and several spacious terraces. Up to 20 wedding ceremonies accompanied by professional musicians are held here daily. Since 2014, more than 12,000 couples have registered their marriage in the civil registry office at VDNKh. From May 2019, you can also get married on a new site, in the Moskvarium.

Photo by VDNKh Press Service

Another extant building is the school (Pavilion No.317). In 1959, the Pavilion was reconstructed as a polyclinic for VDNKh employees. Later, a two-story wing was added to house the X-Ray Department. In 2011, the clinic was closed, and for several years the building was vacant. Finally, it was decided to renovate the pavilion, while preserving its historical appearance. In February 2019, it housed workshops and art residences of young artists. This is a joint project of the chief Russian exhibition and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.

Photo by VDNKh Press Service

Museum of Oriental Art and computer engineering

Pavilion No.13, occupied today by the Museum of Oriental Art, was originally dedicated to the Armenian SSR. The building, completely re-built several times, almost lost its original appearance. In the 1960s, the facade was covered with white profiled sheet with an emblem featuring a bowl with a snake, and the facility became the Healthcare Pavilion.

In 2014, the restorers removed the cover. In 2017, the restoration of the facades launched. Specialists have restored the original three-part portal, arches framing the main entrance. Decorative elements have been recreated according to the survived fragments and old historical photographs, including grids with grapes and pomegranates ornaments. The Pavilion's interior has also been restored, with the decoration of the walls and ceiling, plaster moulding and original lamps renovated.

Another Pavilion, which existed in 1939, was dedicated to the Azerbaijan SSR (today it is known as Computer Engineering and Informatics Pavilion). To date, the restorers are finishing the building’s restoration. It is expected to house Trade and Exhibition Centre of Azerbaijan, as it was 80 years ago.

Inside the Pavilion, work is still underway, but outside you can already view restored sculptures Shepherd and Azerbaijani Woman, as well as the historical coat of arms of the Azerbaijan SSR. The restorers have recreated the front door block, the bowls of two paired fountains on the front facade, lost elements of the ceramic facade decoration (cornice details), mosaics, parts of the walls and columns marble lining.  Window openings of the front facade have now nut wood şəbəkə stained glass windows, collected from small parts.

Unknown sculpture and a horse figure

The Net Tower resembling fishing cages mounted on each other has also been on display since 1939. For a long time, the name of the unusual object's author has remained a mystery, until a few years ago, as a result of two simultaneous studies of a senior researcher of the State Tretyakov Gallery Tatiana Goryacheva and historian Alexander Zinoviev, it became clear that the mysterious tower and column was built by 1939 by the outstanding avant-garde architect El Lissitzky. According to scientists, the openwork tower was an advertising structure of Glavkonserv Pavilion, now lost. Previously, it was topped by a ball with figures of two metal carps mounted. The figure of a horse on the show ring at the Livestock Breeding Pavilion dates back to the same time. Once there was a colt standing next to the horse, but this sculpture has not survived.

Photo by VDNKh Press Service

Almost the same as before

Many pavilions were badly damaged during the World War II. In the 1950s, some of them were completely rebuilt, with some restored close to their original appearance.

So it was with the sculpture The Tractor Driver and Collective Farm Woman (13.5 m high), which was set up on a high pedestal (on the site of today's main entrance). In 1954, by the opening of the exhibition and its main entrance,  the composition was partially changed, with the sculpture getting lower (8.5 m high), and clad with smalt. It was a highlight of the main entrance arch. Initially, the tractor driver held a sheaf of wheat in one hand, with his other arm resting on the collective farm woman's waist. In the updated version, the arm was removed from her waist, and now both hands of the tractor driver hold large gilded sheaf of spikes, made in copper rod technique.

Ukrainian SSR Pavilion (later renamed Agriculture Pavilion) was built in the early 1950s, mostly reproducing the shape and decor of the pre-war building. But the sculptural groups Stakhanovites of Industry and Stakhanovites of Agriculture have been standing at the entrance to this Pavilion from the very first day of the exhibition. There are also extant 2 m high columns, flagpoles decorated with golden mosaic. Inside is the original plaster moulding on the ceiling and walls, but the painting of the walls was lost. Today, the Pavilion houses Slovo Slavic Writing Centre.

Also, in 1954, Grain Pavilion No. 59 was rebuilt, with an effort to preserve its original appearance. The tower was most affected by the changes, as the architects changed its proportions to make it look noticeably taller. But it still has an unusual glazing of its lancet windows.

Photo by VDNKh Press Service

Optics Pavilion No. 64 was originally to host the 'Leningrad and the North-West' exhibition, that it why its architecture reminds us of the classic buildings of St. Petersburg. In 1954, the building was also reconstructed, but the basic forms and decoration elements remained the same.

Both Pavilions are now closed to public.

Photo by VDNKh Press Service

Michurin: a garden and a restaurant

Michurinsky Garden was created as part of the Crop Production themed section.  Each part of the garden represented different climatic zones of the USSR. By 1954, more than 500 varieties of various fruit and berry trees were planted here, including 56 varieties of apple trees, pears, plums, cherries and grapes, bred by Ivan Michurin. There is a monument to the great biologist set up in the centre. In 2017-2018, the garden was recreated, with about a thousand fruit trees and shrubs planted.

Photo by VDNKh Press Service

Today, the Michurin Restaurant (Pavilion No. 131) offers a dessert cooked according to the great scientist's recipe, a baked apple. But in 1939, there was a tram terminal stop here. This area was not part of the exhibition at the time, but the octagonal building with a glazed rotunda had been already constructed.

Photo by VDNKh Press Service

Devil is in the details

In 1939,  Cosmos Pavilion No. 34 was called Mechanisation Pavilion. It featured a huge hangar, with two tiers of tractors, combines, trucks and other vehicles. Today, this hangar is part of the Cosmos Pavilion. Its building was restored according to the design of 1954.

Only the facade left from the pre-war Microbiological Industry Pavilion No.30, including a light carved wooden portico. The rest of the facility was rebuilt in 1954.

Photo by VDNKh Press Service

Pavilion No.311 has also been rebuilt many times. Today, it houses a Thaw Restaurant, with the monumental colonnades of the Central Hall perfectly fit into its interior.  The facade of the old building has also survived, with a bas-relief in its centre, a bouquet of mulberry branches and oak leaves. Plants are food for silkworm caterpillars. It reminds that once there was a 'Sericulture' display here.

Photo by VDNKh Press Service

Street lamps installed at VDNKh are another highlight of the exhibition. There are many lamps dating back to different eras, including the lamps recreated according to the drawings of 1939. You can see them on the Central Alley.

Source: mos.ru

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