mEET THE boss
Treasure Hunter
Alexandra Sankova, the Director of Moscow Design Museum and expert on Soviet Art shares her thoughts on contemporary design and elaborates on her professional plans and favorite spots
in Moscow.

Text by Polina Firsanova

Photos by Mariya Troyanker

You were an expert on contemporary art at the Dutch Embassy in Moscow from 2008 to 2012. Could you tell us more about that period? What distinguishes Dutch contemporary art from other countries? Is it predetermined by a special attitude to contemporary art in this country?

Creative industries in the Netherlands make up 5% of the state revenue. Designers are involved in all design-related processes – design thinking, presenting innovative ideas for recycling secondary raw materials and making new products on their basis, conducting experiments in cross-disciplinary spheres - science, medicine, psychology. Getting a Degree in Design is a big trend in the Netherlands, which has always been the country with a particularly strong reputation in creative industries, driven by their experimental vision and courage, so typical of the Dutch people as of the true sailors, explorers and creators. There is an expression "God created the Earth, and the Dutch created the Netherlands", which might explain their core perception of design, where every detail, starting from the soil modification (drying) to trendy outfits made from recycled clothes, are well-thought-out in good time. I really love both the Netherlands and the Dutch, because they`re keeping a fine balance between beauty, technology and affordability.

The book "23", the selection of interviews with the most famous Russian designers, came out in 2010. Is there anyone who stands out for you most, who you admire and impressed by? If you were writing the book today, which interviews would you add?

The book contains 23 interviews of my most favorite graphic designers of that period, whom I asked same 23 questions to receive 23 completely different responses, as if they were living in different countries, even different planets. Now I want to write a book 32 that will make up 32 interviews of industrial designers, poster designers, media designers, stylists, moving forward to the book 123, as the number of questions and the people I want to talk with, is gradually rising.
Which exhibit of the Moscow Design Museum is your favorite?

I am very proud of the "The History of the Russian Design 1917-2017" exhibition, which was opened by the Moscow Design Museum last year in Tobolsk with support from the Sibur company. It consists of three main parts. Each part is dedicated to an important period of development of Russian design. Those periods are Constructivism (1917-1935), the Soviet period (1950-1980), and the Contemporary period (1990-2017). The exhibition is moving to other three Siberian cities this year. The exhibition displays the history of design development in Russia, showing its great integrity. It is a very simple by structure, basic educational project, which can be clear to every person. It tells about fashion, industrial design, textile, car design, graphic design (posters and books), and other important projects of the last 100 years.

Russian designers are not very familiar with the history of Russian design. It emerged in the period of Constructivism, with such famous artists as Alexander Rodchenko, El Lisitsky, Varvara Stepanova who declared the creation of "the new art" and a new material world. Artworks, created by the constructivists, gained many awards at international exhibitions – this was the period of an incredible upturn for the soviet design. In the 1960-s in the USSR they founded Art Bureaus and institutes, specializing in various design spheres. All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Industrial Design became the main coordinating research organization and set up the state design standards of that time. VNIITE had a unique and most efficient theoretical background in the world. Today our specialists are gaining international recognition, receiving awards at exhibitions and signing contracts with international companies. Many of them turn to the traditional historical heritage in this sphere – because you cannot move forward when you don`t know the past.

There was another exhibition "Design system in the USSR", which was opened in the Centre of Fashion and Design in 2017. Together with Olga Druzhinina, the curator of the project, we expect the exhibition to travel to many places in Russia, and we need partners with potential interest. "Design system in the USSR" is an important research project, which which had been developing for many years. The exposition introduced organizations, involved in industrial design and technical esthetics, their interaction and their role in development of industrial production in our country. The exposition comprises general information on the state system of the USSR design in the 1960-1980s. The Russian Design History starts in Nizhny Novgorod on June 29th and welcomes its guests till August 19. Then it moves to Tumen in September and to Nizhnevartovsk in November.

Сould you comment on the present situation with contemporary design in Russia?

Contemporary Design has three major scopes of development – Industrial design in the framework of state organizations; designers` personal initiative, when they act both as designers and producers. In this case they are in charge of packaging, advertising, signing contracts with distributing companies; they might be selling products via social media or websites. The third one is the collective design of the unique artworks, displayed not only at design exhibitions, but contemporary art exhibitions and art galleries as well.

Are you planning any exciting, interesting exhibitions in the Moscow Design Museum? Could you tell us more about that?

London Design Biennale. As winners of Biennale 2017, this year we are representing Russia with a special project, which studies the influence, which design has on all aspects of a human life, including emotions. We are also doing a movie about VNIITE.
It is a great honor to represent the country on such professional level for the second time.

TV Culture Channel is launching a program on the history of Russian design and a series of movies "History of Russian Design". The goal of the project is to tell all viewers about the Russian heritage in the sphere of design, get them acquainted with the most outstanding designers and artists of the 20th -21st centuries, leading institutes, organizations and companies, involved in design throughout the 20th century. The series was created jointly with my colleague Svetlana Chirkova. It's came out in May 2018 on TV Culture Channel, and it will soon be available with English subtitles on the Museum Design website.

Documentaries cover the most important periods of the Russian design history for the last 100 years: Constructivism and the creation of the USSR design system; one series is devoted to VNIITE (the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Industrial Design) as to the leading institute of the soviet design. The 4th series focuses on the works of contemporary designers. After TV Culture broadcast we want to pass over the material to all the schools and universities, so that students had the opportunity to watch movies as a part of their educational program. The movie will also be given to the Design and Applied Art Museums media centers abroad.

Working jointly with director Andrey Sivestrov we are doing the film on the VNIITE history and projects. We have been filming for three years now, and we are planning the premiere finally in September

Could you talk about your professional plans. Is there a book or an exhibition that we should expect to see soon?

We are planning to do a series of books, the first one, coming out in July, is dedicated to Vladimir Fedorovich Runge, who was running the Design Bureau for many years. The author of the book Olga Druzhinina wants to write not only about his personal achievements, but his artworks and the history of the Zenit plant as well. The next book is about Alla Levashova, the creator of the soviet pret-a-porte. The book about Roman Faiershtein, the designer of all big state exhibitions, is being written by Tatiana Zborovskaya.

We want to release a book "USSR Design system", which includes a lot of visual and research information (which was impossible to demonstrate at the exhibition at full scale). Now we are trying to find a publishing house to help us realize the project. We are ideally looking for a partner, interested in releasing the books on design. The book Soviet Design will be translated into French in September 2018.

We`re planning the exhibition "Design for a decent life". That is an international exhibition, which is supposed to demonstrate how designers in different countries tackle the life-support problems of the people with disabilities and what kind of help can be provided to their families. We are also looking into different social layers, people with all kinds of diseases and the elderly. But those are plans for 2018.

Who did you want to become when you were a kid?

When I was a kid I wanted to be a Mom – all the kids were laughing, all adults – trying to explain it to me that this is not a profession. The Want-to-become-Mom period was followed the want-to-become a witch period, who can fly on a high-speed broom, travel to any part of the world, talk to animals, birds and plants. Then I became a treasure hunter, we had a team with other kids, every day we would dig the soil in the kindergarten, all of the tutors were shocked, as we would dig pits in the ground all over the place like mole-rats. After that I dreamed of becoming a detective.

Is your family in the art sphere? Did the atmosphere in the family trigger your career path?

Everyone in my family was involved in engineering, teaching or serving God. My Dad always used to do different kind of craft stuff – constructing, gluing, cutting, or painting; my Mom could sew and paint – which was quite common for most of the soviet people to do. We also went to the museums a lot, I wanted to become a designer, but did not know which college to attend.

My mother`s friend Ruzanna Lisitsian suggested that I ask advice from to Melik-Pashaev, the Stroganov Academy graduate, artist and son of a famous soviet conductor, and he introduced me to the professors, who helped me enter college. My first real job with a record in the Employment record book was the internship at the Stroganov Museum, which was truly important and touching in some way; then I became Dean`s assistant, so I entered college from the second try. This job was a big step in understanding interrelations with other people, especially designers. I realized how special and interesting and smart they were, most of them working for other people. Designers have to primarily think through the goal of their work, who it is aimed at (the target audience), economics and the technological peculiarities of the process. They must have a very good understanding of the process on the whole – what will be popular in two-three years, after the project starts. If you do something wrong, the whole project can fail. What was also very important: state-run economy prevented many risks, and in a situation of a total deficit, any products could be in demand regardless of their design.

If you had an opportunity to travel back in time, which epoch would you prefer?

I would like to travel back to the beginning of the 1920s, when profession started its development in our country. At that time designers used to call themselves artist or constructors, at the beginning of the 1920s VHUTEMAS was opened, where Rodchenkova, Stepanova and Tatlin, Lisichky were professors – I wish I could learn something from them. New stars are born only in the conditions of severe disasters and the Universe explosions.

Then the Soviet Union started a new life. Rejecting old traditions, they had to create new ones, including every tiny aspect of the city`s life. Socialistic society demanded new modern buildings, interiors and clothes, furniture and household machines that would comply with the new regulations, people`s new ideology, their way of life. It was an incredibly challenging and interesting time.
How much time do you give to work? Is it easy to find the right balance between career and personal life?

I have a lot of work, so I can`t keep that balance. My parents help me giving a lot of time and energy to my child`s education, taking him to all those classes, so that I could do my job. I can`t even say that running Design Museum is my job, it is my life.

Do you have a big dream, not related to your occupation?

I wish I could find my soulmate, a person to have similar views with and one direction in life. I want to play the piano and learn how to pilot the plane and also travel to all the countries in the world.

Do you have a favorite place on the planet?

I like the Caribbeans, Cuba, Kamchatka, Japan. The landscapes are insanely beautiful, it feels like you`re looking at the paintings, with those bright colors and their combinations, that cannot exist in real life. The beauty of the nature gives you a lot of energy, after you dive into that magical world somewhere in the parallel reality for a couple of days, then many years later your thoughts might go back to those memories and beauty again. I do a lot of traveling, work-related mostly, but I`d really love to go to New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Brazil.

What`s your favorite city?

I like Kolomna a lot, it has a beautiful historical Kremlin, and like in very few cities in Russia, the Kremlin is the residential neighborhood for some people with their private wooden houses, built on its territory, so it is not only a tourist attraction. There`re some museums: the Kolomna museum of local region and history, the Soap Museum the Trams Museum, the "Kalachnaya" Museum, the marshmallow factory, the Art communal apartment. People of Kolomna are very kind, nice and hospitable, they take a very good care of the city.
I love St Petersburgh and Budapest. It`s nice when a city has a grand historical center, there`re a lot of plants, trees and a river. When the architecture is in harmony with the nature, it makes these cities look magical and romantic. It is great to sit in the Sun, drink champagne and watch the ships floating down the river.

Your favourite spot in Moscow?

I love The Moscow Conservatory and the Stanislavsky theatre with their contemporary, cutting-edge performances. I am very happy that Moscow Design museum Art Director and Stanislavsky Museum Art Director is the same person Stepan Lukyanov, so we are united by not only innovative approach in work.
I love taking a walk along the Moscow boulevards, coming over to my friends` place, visiting galleries. In Sokolniki park you can have barbecue, ride a bike; I like the Izmailovsky park, where you can get nice stuff on the flea markets, rent a boat per hour or just have a picnic.

I like painting and giving my paintings away to my friends – in Stroganov Academy university everyone in all faculties must do paintings, drawings and sculpture.

I`m on Instagram, as it`s important for us to promote social media. Please follow us on Instagram and our Facebook page. My colleague Svetlana Chirkova posts a lot of material about Russian designers, and the history. And it is important for us to know that people are reading us, as we`ve been working voluntarily for many years, hoping that our work will help to preserve the history and pass it onto as many people as possible, will help to improve people`s taste and bring the culture into every home.
Meet the Boss at
Moscow Design Museum
+7 (917) 501-59-56