Lysenko's “Michurinism" and Art at the Darwin Museum 1935-1964

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This chapter offers a case study from an art historian’s perspective, of the impact of the growth and decline of Trofim Lysenko’s power between 1935 and 1964 on the displays at the Darwin Museum, a natural history museum in Moscow. The institution was unusual for the heavy commitment of its directors, Aleksandr Kots and Nadezhda Ladygina-Kots, to the use of art works for illuminating past and contemporary evolutionary theory within the displays. The discussion focuses on the Museum’s strategic, discursive use of what Nikolai Krementsov has termed “Marxist Darwinst” rhetoric, in contextualising and explaining the significance of the art works, in order to defend its position and access state resources for a larger building to house the collection.
It will be seen that the Darwin Museum gradually aligned itself in the 1920s-1930s with aspects of Marxist Darwinism that became key elements of Lysenko’s “Michurinist biology”. This strategy opened up a gap between the scientific research and interests of the museum directorate, their connections with western scientists, and what was said to the museum visitors. Lysenko’s triumph in August 1948 necessitated dramatic changes to the museum display and very careful adherence to the current nuances of Lysenko’s version of “Michurinist biology”. After 1955, while Kruschev’s “Thaw” and de-Stalinisation allowed the museum tentatively to indicate visually its (enduring) adherence to genetics rather than Michurinism, this was strategically, equivocally expressed - ultimately to the museum’s disadvantage regarding the new building. In conclusion, while the study notes that the museum clearly contributed, however unwillingly, to the entrenchment of Lysenkoism, it vividly illustrates some of the attendant dangers of transforming the complex discourses of science into simplified and demagogic “cultural resources.” In particular, it underlines the deep problems underlying any suppression of public access to the complexity and relativism of real scientific discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLysenkoism as a Global Phenomenon: Genetics and Agriculture in the Soviet Union and Beyond, vol1
EditorsWilliam deJong-Lambert, Nikolai Krementsov
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages46
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-39176-2
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-39176-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017
Event2nd International Workshop on Lysenkoism - Vienna, Austria
Duration: 21 Jun 201223 Jun 2012

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology
PublisherSpringer Nature (Springer International Publishing AG, Cham, Switzerland)


Conference2nd International Workshop on Lysenkoism


  • Lysenkoism
  • Darwinisim
  • Darwin Museum
  • Soviet Art
  • Darwin Museum Moscow
  • Aleksandr Kots
  • Nadezhda Ladygina-Kots
  • Michurin
  • Cold War
  • Evstaf'ev
  • Vatagin


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