Social realism is often not taken seriously. The detail-overloaded mutations of classical styles, by the way, ask for it themselves. But by lumping all of Socialist Realism into a bag labeled "quirk," we deprive ourselves of knowledge of its many shades and little-known realizations. The cure for this deficit is Aleksandra Sumorok's pioneering publication devoted to Socialist Realist interiors.
The architecture and design of the late 1950s and early 1960s have been in high demand for at least a decade - despite the period when - for reasons far removed from aesthetic concerns - they were received unfavorably. It is more difficult with Socialist Realism, for which Socialist Modernism and New Look in the Polish variety were a counterweight. A strong ideological burden, associations with Stalinism, and an aesthetic and often grotesque turn to the past effectively prevented the outbreak of retro fashion for "socialist realist" architecture. For these reasons, many realizations of this period have not lived to see substantive documentation and analysis. While buildings and urban assumptions are present in the discourse, interiors were in their shadow. "Socialist Realism and Socialist Realism. Interior Architecture in Poland 1949-1956" written by art historian-researcher Aleksandra Sumorok finally fills this long undeveloped niche. For a long time, or even far too long. For it is only while reading that the strange fact that this item is published only now, at a time when some of the interiors or their furnishings have already ceased to exist, reaches us.
open and distinct
In a comprehensive and lavishly illustrated volume, Sumorok takes us through a series of interiors she describes as "open" - available to the public and geared toward the then-new mass audience. From the widely discussed and presented palaces and houses of culture (led by the lesser-known Zagłębie Culture Palace in Dąbrowa Górnicza), through cinemas, interiors of offices, offices, institutions and theaters to - very interesting realizations of hostels or creative work houses.
Aleksandra Sumorok "Socialist Realism and Socialist Realism..."
photo: Jakub Głaz
The author emphasizes the distinctiveness of many Polish solutions, not only different from Soviet models, but also with an individual feature given by individual designers, often with names associated primarily with the modernism of the 1930s or post-Soviet socmodernism. Hence the contrasts visible on the pages of the book between the highly decorative forms of some of the projects, and the economical (and to some extent polemical with Socialist Realist doctrine) interiors by Leykam or Buszka and Franta. The descriptions also include other names - authors of furniture or decorations associated mainly with the times after 1956. Thanks to "Socialist Realism and Socialist Realism..." we also become aware of the differences between the meaning and forms of Socialist Realism in large and small towns. For the latter, the "palatial," ornate and - just as importantly - multifunctional facilities of cultural centers were a true revolution.
Not far from Sanation
Sumorok does his best to make sure that, by learning more about the subsequent realizations, the reader sees Polish Socialist Realism not only as a stylistic and ideological landing craft dropped by the authorities and designers enamored of Soviet achievements. He points out how much interiors have in common with what was going on in the representative architecture of the Second Republic. After all, avant-garde modernism was not a style belonging to official realizations. It was dominated here by "pniewszyzna" and related solutions, which, as the author shows by demonstrating the pre-war House of Physical Education in Kielce, were close to socialist realism. The modernization aspect is also important - aiming to drive society into official cultural and ideological circulation. Here, too, one can find many similarities between the "community centers" of the pre-war era and the community centers of the post-1945 era.
Aleksandra Sumorok "Socialist Realism and Socialist Realisms..."
photo: Jakub Głaz
It is also interesting to discover the synthesis of solutions typical of pre-war modernism with details and decorations of historicizing form. This includes the case of the streamline forms of the Maritime House of Culture and the now defunct Leningrad Cinema in Gdansk. Two moments of stylistic transformation are also interestingly tracked: social-realist interiors set in designs from before the imposition of the new doctrine, and the simplification of richly ornamented designs completed after 1956. Much satisfaction is also provided by reading the numerous quotations from the era, with which - after a very careful search - the author has saturated her publication. There are many quotations and references from the daily press of the time, which is due to the fact that even then Socialist Realist interiors were not widely present in professional publications.
Thus, the reader gets in his hands a perfectly documented work, capturing socialist realist interiors in a broad, not only stylistic or architectural perspective. The book isdivided into two parts: the main one - with the author's narrative illustrated with color photos, and a black-and-white catalog of individual realizations allows for one's own research and discoveries. The only obstacle to reading may be the too frequent repetition of certain information or explications made by the author. However, a solid research workshop, subject matter and a large selection of illustrations more than compensate for this affliction.
Aleksandra Sumorok, "Socialist Realism and Socialist Realisms. Interior Architecture in Poland 1949-1956"
published by the Wladyslaw Strzeminski Academy of Fine Arts in Lodz, 2021