“Unlike Tatlin's, Avvakumov's models are not intended for construction. An avant-garde architect in the present day Soviet Union of course cannot build. Thus Avvakumov practices "paper architecture" of symbolic, not functional, import. Often as ironic commentary on social and political "models", Avvakumov's models employ the formal sculptural means of constructivist architecture and the critical insight of metaphor and pun to expose human elements embedded in the work of art and politics: aspiration, frustration, staying-power and humor.

Made on the scale of toys, yet with the precision of an engineer, Avvakumov's constructions are as linguistically playful as they are critically incisive. In the end Avvakumov's work proposes no political solution; rather it favors the subtle critical mechanisms of irony and humor, humbling and shrinking social and political ambition to a sculptural display placed under the gaze of more careful scrutiny.  <...>

The dynamism of Tatlin's Constructivist art can be related to the optimism of a revolution and a sense of the present perceived through an obsession with the future - "The task ahead of us", as he wrote. The use of historical reference and the reliance on the mechanisms of comparison and revision in Avvakumov's work instead reveals a sense of the present between an almost symmetrical existing past and existing future. As opposed to Tatlin's dynamic and unidirectional compositions that represent a trajectory forward in space and history,   Avvakumov's   constructions always are built with visual and verbal balances or alternatives - a Constuctivist design coexists with a Social-Realist design, a machine of flight is held fixed in space, a fragile house of cards is glued together, a weighty cupola is turned upside-down to become an air-balloon. And just as Polar Axis reflects infinite levels of ascent and descent, so the dense cluster of ladders of Stair-Ladder Barricade portrays a boundary, but in its multidirectional dynamic formal construction more precisely embodies the suspension in an infinity of possibilities that forms the thin existence between the future and the past”.

Michael Govan "Temporary Monuments: Ascent and Descent". World Architecture #15, London 1991

“...There emerges a sharply polemic antithesis to the canonized idiom of socialist realism in architecture which always strove to produce images of an "upturn", or "up-rise", or "soaring", or purposeful dashing by using a limited choice of crude, "accessible" forms resulting in architectural banality and bad taste. This interpretation is far from arbitrary for it is confirmed by some other of the artist`s compositions in which we find no ladders, but a parody of some other canonized motifs and forms of Soviet architecture also meant to convey the ideas of a "rise", "take off", etc. (as his imitation of the "Palace of Soviets" project in a self-erecting construction made of playing cards). Here we see a refreshing sample of architectural irony. The motif of "steps leading nowhere" acquires a bitter symbolic meaning.

Avvakumov considers "a ladder as such" (in the lingo of Russian futurists) looking at it from all angles with close attention to discover admiringly the boundless polysemy of this elementary form. He sees it as a universal archetype, one of the basic elements of architecture, one of its symbols or manifestations, such as a column supporting a beam or a vault, a door, a window, a hearth. In his models Avvakumov uses small toy ladders, sometimes he builds them life-size, sometimes he makes installations of real ladders or step-ladders. None of them lead anywhere, but they all are full of meaning.”

Anatoly Strigalev "Paper Architecture Made of Iron". Catalogue of the exhibition "Temporary Monuments". State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg / Schusev Museum of Architecture, Moscow 1992/93

“The retrospective turn towards the constructivist poetic manner makes it possible to see more clearly the real multitude of its initial artistic meanings and to evaluate their correlation to the latest artistic tendencies. In the designs by the constructivists of "Agitarch", economy of means corresponds to minimalism, ideological activeness to leftism and the "unreality" of the designs to conceptualism”.

Alexander Rappaport “From images to principles”. Catalogue of the exhibition "Agitarch Models". Linssen Galerie, Cologne 1989

“It is impossible, for instance, to imagine Minimalist sculpture and its emphasis on industry, technology and repetition without Tatlin and Rodchenko. The German Bauhaus and Dutch de Stijl movements of the 1920's and 30's owed obvious debts to Constructivism. So do post-modernists like the artist Barbara Kruger and the architect Frank Gehry. And among contemporary Soviet Conceptual artists, including Yuri Avvakumov and Sergei Podyomschikov, the movement's legacy is often and poignantly evoked as a symbol of the revolution's broken promise”.

Michael Kimmelman “A Soviet Movement That Tried To Change All Aspects of Life”. The New York Times 1990

“Avvakumov seems largely unaffected by asymptotic digital technologies. His manipulation of dynamic forces is not that of spaghetti-highway clovers or satellite-framed views, but is inspired by the politics of present-day Russia, and - vicariously - Central and Eastern Europe as a whole. He is trying to find methods of expression and iconography that reflect swift and radical cultural change as his country battles with itself in its attempts to buy into the West's pervasive 'democratic' capitalism (if such an expression is not oxymoronic). Here is work essentially handmade and rough hewn that successfully uses its artisan-like construction to achieve a resonance that cannot be ignored. Avvakumov's work has a surreal simplicity. For him, the issue of monumentality is static yet full of poise and strong political undertones. He utilises rereadings of Tatlin's tower and invents new monumental typologies and tactics such as his diving tower submerged in water ('It's safer that way'). His is a quest for the focal, iconic point, an eloquent reminder that architecture does not always need the sleek, finely crafted and digitally inspired product. It can be made of sticks, ladders and leaves and may be concerned with simple but complex human issues such as death, oppression and heaven; and even the immortality of paper architecture as a cherished cultural text”.

Neil Spiller “The Power of Contemporary Architecture”. Academy Editions, London 1999

The tower motif, so often observed in paper architecture reminds one of Babylon, both as a symbol of the vainness of human audacity and also of the sin which leads to death. Another widespread archetype in paper architecture is the bridge. In being an instrument linking two worlds, of itself it belongs to neither of them – it is located between them, in a certain existential uncertainty, similar to the uncertainty of the historical fate of the “paper men”.  Avvakumov’s transparent staircases likewise lead nowhere.  Avvakumov transforms the ancient symbol of ascent into a prop for the staging of chaos, reminiscent of a skeleton’s ribcage – the classic subject of the “triumph of death”.  Overall, the idea of the skeleton is the theme which binds many designs, and is the result of the rational dematerialisation of form.  Windows, cupolas, doors, streets, towers, fences – the whole arsenal of architectural forms here appears as bare outlines/sketches: the flesh falls from these images, and all that remains is their outline, or drawing.

Alexander Rappaport, London

In fact, each of the maquettes included in the exposition is the embodiment, for the most part, of one or other of the architectural signs mentioned.  Thus the playing-card maquette (Self-erecting Playhouse) almost literally depicts erectedness, which transposes itself into the direct image of ascent (Polar Axis), while it, in turn, transforms The Flying Proletarian into a metonomically realised airiness, fixed and rooted in the iconic unit of all the Temporary Monuments, let us say, with the presence of Letatlin (Red Tower and Flying Proletarian). But as distinct from the Tower of Perestroika, which gives a synthetic image of the truth of architectural form, each successive maquette, based usually on some kind of perfect artistic pattern, seems to be an attempt to develop an expression, classic in its purity, of spatiality. And this endeavour is understandable, since the creators of the maquettes as their prototypical absolute artistic value choose the art of Soviet constructivism, which being understood by them in its best manifestations, stands as the form of that classic legacy, beyond the influence and traditions of which no artistic creation is possible at all.

David Bernshtein, Moscow. Dekorativnoye Iskusstvo 1993

The defining touchstone of the exhibition is the special, intellectual romanticism, constructed not on exalted emotions, but rather in the depth and maturity of the conceptual position in relation to the time being reviewed. The small-scale, sculpturally-impeccable objects of the studio communicate the entire, tragic many-layered titanic utopias of the twenties: their totalitarian gigantism, the social doom and powerful energy of the design. In this sense “The Worker and the Collective Farm Girl” in Avvakumov’s interpretation appear as a strange symbiosis of the framework of the legendary socialist monument and Tower III of Tatlin’s International, binding the lunatic ideological monsters like scaffolding, are perceived as a requiem for the ingenious, but doomed epoch presented by the artist with the mercilessness of a radiologist. On this severe but at the same time spellbinding bareness of construction and form almost all the objects of AGITARCH are built up, and are perceived as architectural and sculptural metaphors, as if they were giving expression to what was unspoken but implied by the visionaries of the socialist paradise.

Olga Kholmogorova, Moscow 1994

Avvakumov’s neoconstructivism is based upon the subtlest combination of love for the architecture of the twenties and irony both in relation to that architecture itself, and also to his own position. The Avvakumov of the late 80s is compared to Sots Art, but such a comparison seems to me to be not completely accurate.  Sots Art was based on an abrupt disavowal and mockery of the poetry of Soviet Grand Art, while this theme is absent from Avvakumov.  His aesthetic is love for the architecture of the Soviet avant-garde, and its form is not in the least a source of comic effect, as is achieved by Komar and Melamed.  The irony is based upon deconstruction of the Soviet connotations of this form (not on concentrating them to lead to absurdity), and it has a purifying effect.  I would call Avvakumov’s work constructivist passéisme, for he belongs to constructivism like the World of Art does to the XVIII century. He admires El Lissitzky and Tatlin just like Benoit does Versailles, the refinement of form is combined with irony in relation to state pathos.  Just as Benoit called his picture The King goes walking whatever the weather, Avvakumov could have called his The Proletarian goes flying whatever the weather. This is a very aristocratic constructivism, which is itself paradoxical.

Grigory Revzin, Moscow. Project Classic 2004

Avvakumov’s “Paper Constructivism” remains an unsurpassed example of penetration to the essence of style – original, ironic, and unusually sorrowful.

Nikolai Malinin, Moscow. Nezavisimaya Gazeta 2001

The exhibition is devoted not only to the architectural aspects of the impermanence and the transitory nature of the world, but also to the problem of Time itself.  If we believe Avvakumov, then we have already found ourselves in that very Future which the Russian avant-gardists designed.  However, all their utopias remained on paper, and Avvakumov does not intend to reconstruct them – he simply experiments with the possibilities of realising them in our days.

Andrei Kovalev, Moscow. TimeOut 2006

Whether it is a pyramid or competition designs for the building of the People’s Commissariat for Heavy Industry does not matter.  In general architecture, for him, above all else is a form of social consciousness and a symbol. Avvakumov only articulates what is self-evident, and completes the utterance of what has been left unsaid; such architecture as if it were of a psychoanalyst, for which constructivism, playing card houses, figures in a game of gorodki — are all symptoms. Then the Red Galley – a model of a genuinely functional structure, where a certain number of red galley workers, back-breakingly working their oars, beating the air with them, in principle they might raise the galley up and then fly away into the heavens — is the best monument to the Russian avant-garde, and to slave labour in the name of a bright future.

Konstantin Agunovich, Moscow. Afisha 2006

For this exhibition Yuri Avvakumov, an architect by education and avocation, and conceptual artist and exhibition designer by profession, who exhibits regularly but sparingly, has gathered together works from over 20 years. Not all of them, but a selection, since Avvakumov is an absolute perfectionist, he loves doing everything precisely, intelligently and beautifully to the point of sterility.  It is impossible to practise as an architect with such a nature for modern Russian architectural practice demands many concessions in taste, quality, and even in common sense. But an architect may create their ideal world in designs and maquettes, playing with associations, and speculating in cultural stereotypes.

Olga Kabanova, Moscow. Vedomosti 2006

For Russian culture Avvakumov is indeed a palaeontologist. From year to year, for decades, he has been collecting, and he displays, the architectural utopias of the Soviet avant-garde: the entire pantheon of his gods, from Malevich to Leonidov. He arranges small towers, staircases, columns, and ceiling pellicles from vertebrae and ribs.  And he makes his wonderful maquettes: fragile, delicate, vulnerable, ephemeral, which is utopia itself – a dream. And one of his main modules is the elegant step-ladder. Often Avvakumov inscribes it in a musical stave, where it jingles like the flute-spine from Mayakovsky’s poem of 1915:

It seems // I am fallen from the scaffold of days. // I have stretched my soul above the abyss with a rope, // juggling with words, and swaying above it.

Sergei Khachaturov, Moscow. Vremya Novostei 2006

The exhibition’s name refers simultaneously to the national religious tradition, a sacred area of each inhabited space and to the aesthetic of the avant-garde.  It is at the conjunction of these two connotations, to a greater or lesser extent involving the latter’s language and style, where this artist works.  The drawings, done mainly in red tints, go very well with the gallery’s house colours.

In a medium-sized extended hall Avvakumov fits in no less smoothly: on the walls are the typical works of the paper-architect, while the maquettes are arranged along the hall’s main axis, culminating in a structure based on the motifs of Tatlin’s Tower for the Third International and Mukhina’s The Worker and the Collective Farm Girl.  It was this structure which formerly opened the exposition of the Berlin version of the blockbuster Moscow-Berlin.

V. Kostina, Moscow. Weekend.Ru 2006

Imagine a long canoe, where instead of oars there were wings, and two teams of waving oarsmen, sitting in different halves of the long body are trying to raise their part of the boat above the other. By design, the aircraft flutters, moving upwards with the energy of the competing teams along vertical girders, and at the highest point the whole construction with the people in it breaks away and goes into free flight in an unknown direction.  A worthy Utopian culmination of the rivalry between the blacksmiths of future happiness.  Here Avvakumov as it were faithfully follows the spirit of the Russian avant-garde: it seems that this uncontrolled flight of proletarians who have got themselves out of being stokers is a very possible result of the unprecedented courage and freedom of building peace, which was embodied in the art of 1920-1930. Everything had to end like that, Platonically, if a guiding hand did not return the proletarians to earth – to dig canals, and lay railway lines. And also architects at the same time – to build in the spirit of the classic socialist realism.

Igor Chuvilin, Moscow. Gazeta 2006

Here, on the one hand a kind of pantheon of the prophets of the avant-garde, while on the other hand, something like a reservation for that magnificent past, when humankind still believed in progress, and when art had not yet lost its high mission to change the world.  At first glance, Yuri Avvakumov’s exhibition reminds us of some kind of 0,10, Proun-Room of Lissitsky, or an exhibition of the Society of Young Artists – for in style it is so impeccably restrained (not for nothing has its creator design so many presentations of our avant-garde art). However, on closer examination, the more than half a century which separates the MARKhI graduate of the mid-eighties (when the series Temporary Monuments was begun), and even more so us, from the golden age of the Russian avant-garde, is seen more clearly. Unfortunately or fortunately, it is impossible to bridge this distance even for the most notorious devotees of suprematism and constructivism, to which Yuri Avvakumov indubitably belongs.  Inseparability and unmergeability is an excellent formula of Alexander Blok to describe the far from simple relations of our contemporary from an era long since gone.

Ekaterina Lazareva, Moscow. Project Russia 2006

MIND GAMES: Yuri Avvakumov became a leader among his architect colleagues in the 1980s by curating exhibitions of their conceptual works for display abroad. In June he was honored with the Soratnik prize, the laureates of which are voted on by a jury of 101 artists. Avvakumov also received international recognition this year, when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation commissioned him to design a pavilion for a planned museum complex in Abu Dhabi. And the highlight of the year's exhibitions was "Games," Avvakumov's solo show at the Stella Art Foundation, with sculptures that drew on cards, chess and dominoes to expose the ludic roots of the urges to build and destroy.

Brian Droitcour, The Moscow Times 2007

The spirit of Russian Constructivism and much of its imagery carried on in the minds of Elia Zenghelis, Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid in their early work, seemed to have harmed them very little. Modern Russia seems to have both a love and hate relationship to it, perhaps for its political resonance, yet one quiet respectably democratic Russian, Yuri Avvakumov, seems to have captured and continued its spirit as well as imagery. The 1970s and 1980s experienced the emergence of so-called 'paper architects' in Russia - none of whom had the chance to build, but they drew and drew. Cut of the most of the Western experimentalists, their work carried with it a certain heroicism that demanded of it a high degree of imagery. Very much abstracted from the need to build, it was poetic and slightly winsome in character.

Peter Cook, London. Drawing, the motive force of architecture 2008

With "Letters from Moscow", the USSR presented an exhibit entitled the Architecture of Paper, the movement that involved numerous architects who were under 40 years old at the time. A small forest of copper-plated pillars held up large stained, drawn sheets, in an inextricable mixture of architectural and visual forms, with written and figurative stories. It was neither a project, graphics nor a representation, neither utopia nor formalism. It was pure fantasy, or perhaps the aristocratic-democratic reaction to such, of any potential urban and non-urban element both in and out of the story, in and out of the context, in and out of the academy and style. It was "...Circus and not theater...", as founder Yuri Avvakumov wrote (in addition to much more intriguing things), who said hello by imperceptibly bowing his head and clicking his heels.

Laura Agnesi, Milan. Three Triennali 2015