VDNKh: a Soviet Time Capsule

VDNKh is an acronym that stands for Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva (Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy) and it is the largest exposition, museum and recreational complex in the world, one of the most popular public spaces of Moscow, visited each year by about 25 million people.

The area of this permanent general purpose trade show and park is almost 25 square kilometers (9.5 square miles) and it is also connected with Ostankino Park. It is located in Ostankinsky District of Moscow, less than a kilometer from Ostankino Tower. It is served by VDNKh subway station, as well as by Moscow Monorail.

VDNKh also has a very interesting history, in a way very Soviet, history. The exhibition was established February 17, 1935 as the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (VSKhV). An existing site (then known as Ostankino Park, a country territory recently incorporated into the city limits), was approved in August 1935. The master plan by Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky was approved in April 1936, and the first show season was announced to begin in July 1937. However, plans did not materialise, and three weeks before the deadline Joseph Stalin personally postponed the exhibition by one year (to August 1938). It seemed that this time everything would be ready on time, but again the builders failed to complete their work, and regional authorities failed to select and deliver proper exhibits. Some pavilions and the 1937 entrance gates by Oltarzhevsky were torn down to be replaced with more appropriate structures (most pavilions were criticised for having no windows). According to Oltarzhevsky’s original plan, all of the pavilions were to be constructed from wood. In 1938, a government commission examined the construction and decided that it did not suit the ideological direction of the moment. The exhibition was considered too modest and too temporary. As I mentioned before, it was never a good idea to displease Stalin and as a result of the party secretary irritation, Oltarzhevsky was arrested, together with the Commissar for Agriculture and his staff. Oltarzhevsky was eventually released in 1943 and, fully rehabilitated, he went on to work on the 1947-1953 Moscow skyscraper project.  In August 1938 Nikita Khrushchev, speaking at the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union assembly, declared that the site is not ready, and the opening was extended to August 1939. This time failure was not an option and it really opened August 1, 1939.

The new plan proved, indeed, not to be too temporary and 49 buildings of the 1939 exhibition survive to this day and have being recognised as monuments of cultural heritage. By 1989 the exhibition had 82 pavilions with an exhibition area of 700,000 square metres. Each pavilion (including those of the 1939 “regions”) had been dedicated to a particular industry or field: the Engineering Pavilion (1954), the Space Pavilion (1966), the Atomic Energy Pavilion (1954), the People’s Education Pavilion (1954), the Radioelectronics Pavilion (1958), the Soviet Culture Pavilion (1964). During Soviet times, each year VDNKh hosted more than 300 national and international exhibitions and many conferences, seminars and meetings of scientists and industry professionals. These events attracted about 11 million visitors annually, including 600,000 guests from outside the Soviet Union. The “Radioelectronics” exhibition hall for some years housed the working (and unique) prototypes of the most advanced ES EVM computers to date, which were time-shared by many research organisations right on the premises. In the southern area of the site near the central entrance there is an amusement park with the Moscow-850 Ferris wheel, built in 2004 as part of Moscow’s 850th anniversary celebrations.

In a previous post I already wrote about how, by visiting the VDNKh, you can actually see a rocketship in the center of Moscow.

Photo tip! When visiting a place that encompasses so many elements from different time periods, it is sometimes hard to mix them all together in a meaningful way and in a single picture. A different approach is that of concentrating on one single time period or symbol(s) and to isolate then from the surrounding. In order to do so a telephoto lens (especially if combined with the versatility of a zoom lens) can come in very handy. There are countless (and often heated!) opinions regarding the “zoom versus prime lens debate” and I will not get into the image quality merits of one or the other. But just remember that if you are exploring a new place and just want to enjoy taking pictures, without striving to create museum-quality fine art images, a “walk around lens” like a superzoom can be a lot of fun. The feature image of this post was shot with a 28 to 300 variable aperture superzoom at around 230mm focal lenght.

VDNK Ukraine Pavillion
The semi-abandoned and derelict Ukraine pavilion in VDNKh

In the spring of 2014, the Moscow Government launched a large-scale project to revive VDNH, in honour of the 75th Anniversary of the Country’s Main Exhibition. Considering the actual state of affairs between the two countries it doesn’t come as a surprise that the restoration of the Ukraine pavilion hasn’t been given top priority. I found it sadly ironic (and therefore tried to capture it in the above photo) that the lady in the statue at the pavilion front is actually holding the documents of the Ukraine entrance in the Soviet Union, as a symbol of brotherhood and cooperation between Ukraine and Russia.

Would you like to take part in a photowalk or a photo tour of Moscow or any other Russian destination with an English (and Italian, Spanish and French) speaking photographer (me) showing you the sights and the best time and viewpoint(s) to capture them in your images and telling you a bit about Russian history and traditions? If so, do get in touch and we’ll be happy to create an unforgettable, tailor-made experience for you!




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