Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Visit to the Wende Museum of the Cold War

This is being posted a bit late since the exhibitions discussed below are now ended, but the museum is of course still worth a visit — visit their website for information about their current shows.

I finally got around to visiting the new Wende Museum of the Cold War, now located in a beautifully refurbished facility in Culver City, California that was formerly a National Guard Armory.

As the museum’s name implies, the Wende’s mission is to “preserve Cold War art, culture, and history from the Soviet Bloc countries, inspire a broad understanding of the period, and explore its enduring legacy.” It's a collections-based research and education institute.

The exhibition I saw that concluded in late August was titled, “Promote, Tolerate, Ban: Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary.” Hungary, it turns out, was a slight outlier as a Soviet satellite. While the 1956 Revolution temporarily gave hope for some freedom, the Soviets quickly moved back in, resulting in many deaths and executions on both sides during this explosive period. Nevertheless, the Revolution led to the installation of a new Soviet-approved leadership that allowed a measure of “freedom” for people (at least relative to other Soviet satellites) so long as there was a tacit acceptance of Soviet authority. More freedoms came in 1968 when free-market elements were introduced into the economy. The exhibition explores how these limits were often pushed and tested by art, artists and the people. It was particularly fascinating to see how 1960s designs made their way East and how their innovative work sometimes were adapted in the West (the Rubik’s Cube was invented in Hungary in the ‘70s).

An accompanying, smaller exhibition running concurrently is “Socialist Flower Power: Soviet Hippie Culture,” tracing how hippie culture, with its origins in the U.S., and particularly Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, spread to Europe, the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union. The most amusing anecdote in that section is the fact that at first the controlled Soviet press loved giving hippie culture plenty of coverage because it underscored how youth in the West were rising up against the establishment and, no doubt, to underscore the excesses of the bourgeois—at least until they discovered their own youth had become entranced by and embraced the lifestyle too!

The Museum includes additional areas for scholarly research and their permanent collection, such as Cold War artifacts like spying equipment, Communist dinnerware, busts of Stalin and Lenin, books, toys, etc. There is a garden in back, that was still under construction when I visited, where reportedly some sections of the Berlin Wall will be sited (at the moment, I am aware some already exist by the L.A. County Museum of Art, some of which I believe are being moved to the Wende.)

It’s a beautiful space and if you’re in the area, visit! Note that public visiting hours are limited and while there is no entrance fee, donations are welcome. Visit the Museum’s website for details.

Click here to see the full photogallery.

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