Archival Research

The earliest photographs and drawings of “Space” teaching predate the collection itself and had already long careers as exhibition objects having been separated into individual collections. The materiality of the collections are significant in almost every photograph, for, at one level, it is materiality, the physical nature of the photograph allows the representational quality of photographs to function revealing a range of design models made by students at the school. The fiber-based gelatin silver print, or black-and-white print, as it is commonly called, was the form of virtually all twentieth-century fine art photography. The collection of student photographs became exposed at a different time with each photograph description offering a general exposure, making it difficult to source is how many of the negatives were developed for the production of more than one photograph. The photographs were taken by an unknown photographer. Contained within the collections are individual models, group models, exhibitions, teaching, and panelboards used for pedagogical purposes by the teachers of “Space.” These prints are present in large numbers not only in fine art collections but in the archives. According to Khan-Magomedov: ‘Even by the most conservative estimates, the total number of works on the type of abstract tasks carried out by students in the discipline approached, apparently, two thousand.’ Many of these photographs were stored in family private archives of the VKhUTEMAS graduates were the prominent Soviet academic of the avant-garde, Khan-Magomedov discovered them during his research between 1960-1970. 

 

While some parts of the collection were deliberately preserved by the succeeding institutions (most notably the official documentation on students and the curriculum), much was lost. The VKhUTEMAS collections have survived because of various individuals, institutions, family members, and collectors; some for their own family history, others for institutional history. Khan-Magomedov assembled around six hundred different photographs many of which he then published in several books. Most of the photographs came from two important private archives: those of Nikolai Travin and Mikhail Korzhev, both VKhUTEMAS graduates who participated actively in the development of “Space” teaching. The provenance of the collections prior to 1950 has been difficult to ascertain as all photographs were removed from Russia (illegally) with no legal documentation of legitimacy. This made it difficult for private owners to sell their collections as many institutions require legal proof before purchase. Khan-Magomedov later sold his archive to Howard Schikler, an art dealer in New York, who donated his collection to the Canadian centre for Architecture (CCA), Montreal. The remaining portion he sold to a European collector.