(NEW YORK) – PEN America responded today to the postponement of an exhibit of Soviet architecture at Cooper Union last week, saying the closure “raises questions about the school’s commitment to academic and artistic freedom.”

The exhibit, curated by Cooper Union Adjunct Assistant Professor Anna (Anya) Bokov and Steven Hillyer, is the culmination of scholarship and studio work by Cooper Union students since 2019. The exhibit examined the legacy of Vkhutemas, a famous art and design school shut down in 1930 after a decade by Joseph Stalin; the show was criticized on social media and by a New York University professor for being insensitive, given the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. Cooper Union, which is located in New York City’s Ukrainian Village, postponed the exhibit indefinitely, prompting over 650 scholars and artists to sign an open letter decrying the move. In response, Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager of free expression and education, released the following comments:

“Cooper Union’s decision to halt the opening of Vkhutemas: Laboratory of the Avant-Garde, 1920–1930 raises serious questions about the school’s commitment to academic and artistic freedom. This is a disappointing capitulation: it betrays the professors and students who have been working towards this exhibit since 2019.

“The irony is not lost on us that Vkhutemas itself was shut down by Stalin in a wave of censorship and subjugation. If we begin shuttering exhibits based on artists’ national identities or the state of world affairs, we risk losing the power of the arts– and the varied ways that art can challenge viewers, increase knowledge and understanding, provoke social change, or even subvert authoritarianism. The last minute nature of this cancellation, coupled with the indefinite nature of the postponement, makes this particularly egregious. We call on the school to reopen the exhibition.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057