Modernism with a Human Face: Synthesis of Art and Architecture in Eastern Europe, 1954-1958
The 'synthesis of the arts,' which usually referred to the integration of murals, sculptures and reliefs into architecture, was a key aspect of art and architecture in many parts of the world during the 1950s, from Western Europe to Latin America. It was intended to 'humanize' the increasingly industrialized modern architecture, while providing art with a platform from which to act outside of the confines of museums and galleries, in the 'real' space of society. More importantly, the concept centered on the collaboration between people of different skills and backgrounds, such as artists, architects and craftspeople, who ought to form a cohesive creative community in order for synthesis to emerge. For this reason, the synthesis of the arts was often envisioned as a metaphor for the greater social order of the postwar period and thus, as will be argued here, became particularly prominent in periods of political transition. This dissertation focuses on such a time and place when the concept resurged: Post-Stalinist Eastern Europe, a time when both the aesthetics and politics of Stalinism had to be reformed in the hopes of attaining a 'Communism with a Human Face.' The synthesis of the arts was key to this process, as it allowed for different social visions to be tested in the delimited space of art and architecture before being applied to society as a whole. At the same time, the term's instability and inherent vagueness allowed its continued usage throughout this transition, and within distinct contexts. It could refer to a wide range of things, from interior design to murals and sculptures integrated into modernist architecture, and from immersive, multi-media environments to historicist architecture featuring ornaments in ceramic and stone. Each model represented a different mode of artistic production, as well as a different vision for art's role under socialism. The dissertation thus compares such visions of synthesis, as both a theoretical construct and a practical application, in three Eastern European countries: the Soviet Union, the undisputed political center of the bloc; its largest satellite, the People's Republic of Poland, which experienced a swift and dramatic de-Stalinization and subsequently became a center for reformist thought; and finally, Yugoslavia, whose efforts at developing its own brand of socialism began to bear fruit at the time, when the country emerged as a non-aligned, third pole within the Cold War. This geographical span is counterbalanced by a sharply focused chronology that allows for a close examination of this paradigm shift. Beginning in 1954, when the first signs of aesthetic change can be discerned, it concludes in 1958, when the new, 'socialist-modern' mode of synthesis reached its apogee with the Eastern bloc pavilions at the Brussels World Fair. I argue that the synthesis of the arts constitutes a key element of reformist communist culture, a short-lived phase when a renewed faith in mass utopia was still possible, before the dissident culture of 1960s and 1970s Eastern Europe took hold. Still firmly inscribed within the official culture, the late-1950s practices examined here sought a difficult compromise between increasing art's autonomy while preserving the social purpose assigned to it under communism.