FRAGILE EXCHANGE: Porcelain and the Function of Luxury in Interwar Soviet Russia

Школа искусств и культурного наследия
Christianna Bonin

This lecture examines the constellation of actors and interests that sought to transform porcelain, once the “white gold” of European and Russian court societies, into a useful and valuable material in interwar Soviet Russia. In a society that struggled between eliminating class distinctions and maintaining structures of power, the production of consumer goods was the everyday staging ground upon which designers, critics, and political officials represented those disputes. Focusing on transformations in the formal aesthetics of porcelain objects produced at the Lomonosov State Porcelain Manufactory in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the domestic and international exhibitions, collections, and markets through which they circulated, this paper revises the prevailing view of interwar Soviet Russia as a haven free from luxury commodities and an economy disconnected from exchange with capitalist markets. Fragile, yet robust; hand-painted, yet reproducible; generous in imagery, yet reduced in form: porcelain exemplifies efforts to find a medium that could express socialist difference on the world stage.

Christianna Bonin is a PhD candidate in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a 2016-17 Fulbright Research Fellow affiliated with the Faculty of Arts + Sciences, Saint Petersburg State University. She is also an art critic and contributor to ArtForum. Her research considers the relationships among industry, economic trade, and culture, particularly in nineteenth and twentieth-century art and architecture in Europe and Russia. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, she worked as a translator and curatorial assistant in the Theater Department at the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation in Germany and received a B.A. summa cum laude from Amherst College as well as an M.A. in art history from Williams College.

Christianna Bonin, PhD Candidate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.