Tashkent Modernism. Index (Tashkent)

photo by ACDF
courtesy of ACDF
  • Location State Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
  • Client Uzbekistan Art and Culture Development Foundation
  • Year 2023
  • Status Completed
  • Program Cultural
  • Curator Ekaterina Golovatyuk
  • Team Exhibition Design: Grace (Ekaterina Golovatyuk, Ksenia Bisti, Giacomo Cantoni)
    Texts: Ekaterina Golovatyuk, Boris Chukhovich
    Research: Grace (Ekaterina Golovatyuk, Giacomo Cantoni, Ksenia Bisti, Natalia Saltan, Riccardo Salomoni, Zhongjian Kee, Liza Kunina) Politecnico di Milano (Davide Del Curto, Andrea Gritti, Sofia Celli, Federica Deo), Boris Chukhovich, Laboratorio Permanente (Nicola Russi, Angelica Sylos Labini, Laine Lazda)
    Photographic Essay: Armin Linke
    Graphic Design: Linda Van Deursen
  • Surface 1300 sqm

Given its geographical location, developed resources and multiculturalism, Tashkent has been and continues to be one of the most important centres of Central Asia. From the Soviet era, numerous efforts were made to conserve and restore architectural monuments associated with the rich ancient and medieval history of the region. The modernist architecture of the 1960s–1980s, which articulated the idea of a modern society and was projected into the future, was never perceived as heritage. With the arrival of the market economy and after the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991, the architecture of the previous three decades, which was focused on social issues and economy of means, lost relevance.

Today, the modernist layer of Tashkent is gaining recognition as a unique artistic, cultural and social phenomenon that is best equipped to reveal the specific character of the modernisation of Soviet Central Asia. More than just another ‘peripheral case’ of multiple modernities or a point on the global map of 20th-century architectural modernism, this architecture is relevant to the global cultural scene, reflecting the colonial, postcolonial and decolonial aspects of the Soviet social and cultural experiment.

The Art and Culture Development Foundation (ACDF) and the architecture studio Grace, directed by Ekaterina Golovatyuk and Giacomo Cantoni, together with Politecnico di Milano Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, represented by Andrea Gritti and Davide Del Curto, the studio Laboratorio Permanente, directed by Nicola Russi and Angelica Sylos Labini and the historian Boris Chukhovich have developed a roadmap for the preservation and adaptation of Tashkent’s modernist architecture, establishing a methodology for re-evaluating, conserving and including in the local and tourist agendas an important architectural layer of the city that was formed between the 1960s and the 1980s.

Armin Linke’s work avoids the clichés formed in the last 15 years by publications on Soviet and East European modernism, whereby modernist buildings are glorified as remnants of an exotic, remote and extinguished culture. Rather than immortalising the passing beauty of Tashkent architecture, his photographs aim to highlight its contemporary value, at times intrinsic and at times acquired. His images also reveal another important quality, crucial to his work: this architecture, with its sculptural volumes and elaborate surfaces, is the scenography for staging the larger social scripts.

The archive panels, designed as pin boards, include fragments of the research, analytical and preservation materials. Rather than focus on a specific building, they articulate key themes for the understanding of Soviet modernism: the relationship between the ‘centre’ and the ‘periphery’, the role of institutions, typological, technological and material experimentation, the competition between republics, ideology, orientalism, post-independence transformations and the contemporary condition. The archive also includes materials setting out the repertoire of preservation strategies that were developed specifically for Tashkent.

The Tashkent edition includes original archival materials from multiple state and private archives of Tashkent. In these drawings and photographs exposing the design and construction moments, the high level of sophistication of such processes emerges unequivocably .  At the same time, the beauty and the artistic value of these materials enable us to look at the buildings beyond their utilitarian qualities, as a physical manifestation of unique artistic concepts, exposed through skilled craftsmanship and industrial know how.

The archival materials are mixed with paintings and graphic works from the collection of the State Museum of Arts. Encompassing more and less known authors, such as Nikolai Kharakhan, Medat Kagarov, Alisher Mirzaev, Saydulla Abdullaev, et al., these works reflect the representative and experimental mandate of this architecture within the cultural and urban context of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  Ranging between being the fore and background (of paintings), between objects of construction and scenography for particular moods or events, the modernist architecture is the physical medium (carrier) of the multiple cultural narratives of the period.