Lysenko, “Michurinism” and Art at the Moscow Darwin Museum 1930s-1950s
The triumph of Lysenko’s ‘Michurinism’ in 1948 did not just affect Soviet bio-sciences per se, it also affected the ways in which bio-science and Darwinian evolutionary theory were presented for mass consumption in Soviet natural history museums. This paper offers a case study of one such museum – the Darwin Museum in Moscow. The Museum was, from its foundation in 1907, committed to using art works to support stories of evolution. Nationalised in 1917 as an adjunct of Moscow State University, the museum remained under the direction of its founder, Professor Aleksandr Kots who directed and supervised the creation of paintings and sculptures to support the versions of Darwinism being projected. From the October Revolution to his death in 1964, Kots ensured that the displays at the Museum were always politically correct in relation to the shifting demands of the Soviet regime. Since art was so fundamental to the museum displays it was also through art, often in terms of sculpture busts and narrative paintings of ‘heroes’ of Soviet bio-science, that the Museum both declared its allegiances and hedged its bets in relation to contemporary scientific debates. As I will argue, nothing exemplifies Kot’s keen nose for political correctness better than his lighting response in August 1948 to the decision of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences to abolish genetic science – resulting in a plethora of busts and paintings of Lysenko and Michurin produced and displayed in a very short time-span. Following on from this, I will also argue that to some extent, the dates of production of certain other art works in the 1930s and late 1950s, viewed in conjunction with contemporary documents from the Darwin Museum archive and the British Natural History Museum, might be seen to some extent as a sensitive gauge to chart the gradual, and by no means uncontested rise and fall of Lysenko.