New Jersey is the unlikely home of the world’s largest collection of Nonconformist Soviet art. Since 1991 the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, has hosted Norton T. Dodge’s incomparable collection of underground art, smuggled out of the USSR between the Khrushchev Thaw and Glasnost. The incredible story of the economics professor who became the saviour of unofficial Soviet art is the subject of John McPhee’s short but sweet book The Ransom of Russian Art.
The Dodge Collection includes over 20,000 works in all media by some 1,000 artists. Works are not confined to Russia, with examples of nonconformist art from across the Soviet republics – from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The Zimmerli Art Museum contains many of the underground movement’s now famous names, including Sots Art duo Komar and Melamid, the bad boy of underground abstract art Evgenii Rukhin, Khrushchev’s sculptor nemesis Ernst Neizvestny, Lianozovo Group artists Oskar Rabin and Lydia Masterkova, and Moscow Conceptualism installation artist Ilya Kabakov. The museum also holds a full-scale replica of an AptArt (apartment art) exhibition.
And if all that Soviet art wasn’t enough, there’s plenty more to see in the Zimmerli Art Museum, including a fine collection of pre-Soviet Russian art and Orthodox icons, and collections of 19th-century French art and American art from the 18th to the 21st century.
So if you find yourself in New York it’s well worth catching a bus an hour out of the metropolis to discover this hidden treasure.
Images: Top – Leonid Sokov, Lenin and Giacometti, 1990. Metal and bronze, 47.5 x 41.5 x 14.4 cm; Bottom – Erik Bulatov, Krasikov Street, 1977. Oil on canvas, 150 x 198.5 cm. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Both: Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union. Photo Jack Abraham.