Each item, a luxury in its own way, is distinctive in how its symbolic value evolved before, during, and after the Soviet period. Here we see how what was once decadent became accessible to the masses and to the international community via export. Through these objects we see a picture of exported Russianness.

[Click on an image to read the full object biography.]

Object: can of Beluga caviar

With an economic value that far outweighs its relatively small physical characteristics and unassuming appearance, caviar is an item whose collection, consumption, and commodification has given it one of great historical, cultural, and geopolitical significance. Originating from the roe of sturgeon in the Caspian and Black Seas, different empires and states have controlled its production over time just as it has also been used symbolically throughout the decades to voice representations of both domestic and global perceptions of Russia and quintessential “Russianness.”

Object: Lada 2100

The Lada 2100 (“Zhiguli”) was a type of car produced in the Soviet Union by the Lada company. The car, modeled after the Fiat 124 and marketed as the “people’s car” became available for purchase in 1970 in the Soviet Union. However, a commercial agreement with the Italian-maker Fiat restricted exportation until the Fiat 124 was no longer on the market. Therefore, after distribution of the Fiat 124 ceased in 1974, the Lada 2100 became available in Europe and Latin America. Although the car sold poorly due to its primitive construction, its production represented the advent of Soviet industrialization.

Object: Matryoshka doll or palekh box

Flourishing under Stalin-era reinvention of Russian national culture, Russian lacquer crafts were creations of a Tsarist age. In fact, it was from Japanese toys and boxes that Russian craftsmen took inspiration, so it is on a borrowed canvas that this new mythology of Russian folk culture is displayed. The biography of Russian lacquer crafts is the story of an invented tradition, bridging both Russia’s relationship to the East and the Soviet relationship to the culture of pre-revolutionary Russia.

Object: Bolshoi Theater

The Bolshoi Theater, one of the most storied and dramatic artistic sites in modern Russian history, encapsulates several different aspects of Russian history and culture. Founded by Catherine the Great in 1776 to help promote the ballet and the arts in Russia, the Bolshoi Theater has become centrally important to not only specific events and instances in Russian history, but also in defining the changing concept of “Russianness” over time. The sociopolitical history and material changes of the Bolshoi Theater offer a juxtaposing, unique, and ever-changing lens through which to understand the domestic and international takes on “Russianness.”