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“Designing the Modern Utopia” paints a fascinating picture of a uniquely Soviet experiment in social and sartorial engineering. The exhibition features textiles and drawings from between 1927 and 1933, a short-lived but fascinating phase in Soviet history—when textile design was harnessed as a weapon in the struggle to transform the nascent Soviet Union from a backward, agrarian country into a modern, industrialized state. A small group of artists believed that by infusing clothing and household fabrics with abstract symbols representing Communist ideals (such as tractors, factories, airplanes, and the hammer and sickle), they could assist in transforming the wearer into the new Soviet person. They hoped that workers and peasants, simply by putting on their shirts or skirts, would become walking billboards for the revolutionary initiatives being enacted by the first socialist government.

“Designing the Modern Utopia” comprises nearly one hundred works from the Lloyd Cotsen Collection, organized around major themes and motifs including industrialization, transportation, agriculture, youth, and sports. The exhibition also includes information about the political and artistic contexts that produced these intriguing designs, as well as the history and production methods of printed textiles in Russia.