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  • Roman Karmen. Moscow Illuminations Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the Russian Revolution (Moskva noch’iu v oktiabr’skie dni). 1927. Gelatin silver print, 1927–39, 9 1/8 × 11 7/16" (23.2 × 29 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange (MoMA 1712.2001)

    The roots of a modern Moscow can be traced to the fifteenth century, when this once-provincial duchy of Kievan Rus, located along the Moscow River, overcame Mongol invasions and transformed itself into a monarchy, claiming to be “the third Rome.”[1] Rapid industrialization in the late nineteenth century led to significant population growth across the Russian Empire, as peasants in search of work moved from the countryside into the city. At the start of the Russian Revolution, in October 1917, the population of Moscow was approximately two million.[2] After the revolution, in 1918, Vladimir Lenin made Moscow the capital of both the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the Soviet Union as a whole.[3]

    Although Moscow and Muscovites faced many challenges during and between the two world wars, the city and its people also were host to significant advancements in commerce, technology, and culture. These included the fostering of avant-garde art through The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings: 0.10, in December 1915; the founding of VKhUTEMAS (Higher state artistic and technical studios), in 1920; the OBMOKhU (Society of young artists) exhibitions of 1920 and 1921; the opening of the Moscow Metro in 1935; and the exhibition Ten Years of Soviet Photography, in 1928. During this exciting time, Moscow hosted many important foreign visitors, including Alfred H. Barr, Jr., founding director of The Museum of Modern Art, New York,[4] and the German philosopher and critical theorist Walter Benjamin, both in 1927. That year Benjamin published his thoughts on the city in the Berlin journal Die Kreatur, describing Moscow as “a laboratory table” where everyday life embraced rapid change and experimentation.

    —Ksenia Nouril

    [1] Katerina Clark, Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 19311941 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 1.

    [2] Timothy J. Colton, Moscow: Governing the Socialist Metropolis (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 757.

    [3] Moscow had lost its status as a capital city in 1721, when Peter the Great transferred the imperial government to St. Petersburg, which he founded four hundred miles north, on the Gulf of Finland.

    [4] See Alfred H. Barr, Jr., “Russian Diary 1927–28.” October 7 (Winter 1978).

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