In the 1950s, the Soviet Union witnessed a boom in household design and manufacture. Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain — a new exhibition at GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, on Little Portland St — displays over 50 items demonstrating the quirkiness and innovation that resulted.
The boom stemmed from disappointment. Although the USSR was ahead of the US in the Space Race, it was far behind in terms of the consumer products citizens could buy. At an American National Exhibition in Moscow the reaction was so overwhelming, it was rumoured people fought over used Pepsi cups! Recognising the disparity between living conditions in the West and East, premier Nikita Khrushchev spurred the country into designing new, desirable goods.
GRAD's exhibition displays items with their own unique Soviet stylings, including Kremlin-themed chocolate, a Vespa-like scooter and 'Natasha' soap. There is even a Russian version of the Rubik's Cube.
Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain provides a glimpse into an historic world that most people in Western Europe will have little knowledge of. Products fulfil a familiar role to Western ones, but have a slightly different look and feel. It makes for a show with intriguing stories behind each object.
Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain has been created in collaboration with the Moscow Design Museum and ZIL. It's on at GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, 3-4A Little Portland Street, W1W 7JB until 24 August. Entrance is free.
For more art to see in London, check out our July listings.