A Unique Legacy of Soviet Underground Art is Showcased Anew at the Zimmerli at Rutgers

Russian Art & Soviet Nonconformist ArtNew Brunswick, NJ— On Friday, June 1, 2012, the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers unveils newly refurbished galleries devoted to work created during the Cold War by Russian artists willing to risk persecution, poverty, and exile to defy the Soviet government’s prescribed style of Socialist Realism.

Works on view are drawn from the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of this kind. The late Norton T. Dodge, an economist and Sovietologist, singlehandedly assembled the collection during two decades of travel to and from the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s, in the process saving countless works from destruction. In 1991, Dr. Dodge and his wife Nancy Ruyle Dodge donated to the Zimmerli some twenty thousand works created between 1956 and 1986 by nearly a thousand artists from Moscow, Leningrad, and the former Soviet republics.

Reconfigured, relit, and refurbished galleries on the upper level of the Dodge Wing feature 126 works by Grisha Bruskin, Eric Bulatov, Ilya Kabakov, Vitaly Komar, Alexander Melamid, Irina Nakhova, and Oleg Vassiliev, among other leading nonconformist artists. As well as encompassing a range of media—from paintings and sculpture to assemblages and installations, the new presentation also introduces a handful of never-before-exhibited works from the Dodge holdings.

“It has been a generation since the falling of the Berlin Wall. At this remove, one sees ever more clearly how Soviet repression inadvertently stimulated a flowering of creativity among artists who, in turn, played a significant role in toppling the then-monolithic regime,” says Suzanne Delehanty, director of the Zimmerli.

Based on an installation plan conceived twelve years ago by Norton Dodge and Alla Rosenfeld, former Curator of Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art at the Zimmerli, the current presentation has been overseen by Jane Sharp, Associate Professor of Art History at Rutgers and Research Curator for the Dodge Collection at the Zimmerli, in collaboration with Julia Tulovsky, Associate Curator of Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art at the Zimmerli.

“One reason the Dodges decided to donate their collection to Rutgers was their desire to foster continuing and wide-ranging research into this chapter of art history,” says Delehanty. “The Zimmerli, with the support of the Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund, has responded by creating a powerful program dedicated to exhibiting, researching, and preserving the Soviet nonconformist art in the Dodge Collection. In the past decade, the museum has organized 29 exhibitions, hosted 31 visiting scholars, supported 11 graduate fellows, conserved nearly 100 works of art, lent 336 works of art from the collection to 31 museums, and published 27 books, catalogues, and journals.”

“It is especially thrilling to me that this presentation benefits from new research by two recently minted PhDs, Adrian Barr and Jeremy Canwell, who were able to pursue their interest in Soviet nonconformist art as Dodge Fellows at the Zimmerli and in the Department of Art History at Rutgers,” concludes Delehanty.

The new presentation speaks, in part, to the power and efficacy of the ambiguous narrative as an artistic strategy during the Cold War period. In The Shovel (1984), an assemblage by Ilya Kabakov, the artist posts evocative narrative fragments, sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the third, in a seemingly casual and random order on a wall, leaving the viewer to decipher the true and the false. (These texts translated into English are available in a reading area in the gallery.) Equally speculative is Komar and Melamid’s Apelles Ziablov (1973), an installation wherein seven dark, mysterious, gilt-framed paintings are juxtaposed with a hand-bound volume that purports to recount the demise of an eighteenth-century serf-artist named A. Ziablov. In a similar fashion, Viktor Pivovarov’s Projects for a Lonely Man (1975) pairs six panels charting a faceless Lonely Man’s apartment layout, possessions, daily regimen, and dreams with painted homages to six great Western masters, from Van Eyck to Morandi.

Another highlight of the newly installed galleries is a grouping of ‘metaphysical’ paintings, researched by Ksenia Yachmetz, a graduate student in the Department of Art History at Rutgers and a Dodge-Lawrence Fellow at the Zimmerli. Whether it be a painterly still-life of white lines etched into a grey background by Dmitrii Krasnopevtsev or a delicate abstraction of circles, triangles, and diagonal lines by Eduard Shteinberg, these richly pictorial works were viewed as dangerous during the Cold War simply because their sources, whether Suprematist painting or Russian Orthodox icons, were anathema to the official regime.
Among other groupings shedding light on the impulses that surfaced in the Soviet Union during the Cold War years are those devoted to the Lianozovo Group, a loose confederation of artists, poets, and musicians who met in a humble dwelling in a barrack of a former labor camp; the Moscow Conceptualist movement; and abstract painting and sculpture.

Recent Zimmerli publications exploring the Dodge Collection, including the definitive study Moscow Conceptualism in Context by Alla Rosenfeld, published by the Zimmerli Art Museum and Prestel (Munich/Berlin/London/New York 2011), will be made available to visitors in a large reading area. Nearby, a video screen will loop a documentary featuring rare archival footage and interviews with Norton Dodge, leading American and Russian art historians, and major artists represented in the collection. (The Russian Concept: Reflections on Russian Non-Conformist Art, produced and directed by Igor Sopronenko, 2009.)


Research and scholarship, graduate fellowships, collection care and conservation, exhibitions, publication and education programs associated with the Dodge Collection are supported by the Zimmerli’s Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund, Rutgers University, and the University’s Dodge Lawrence Fund. A special capital grant from Rutgers University supported the refurbishing of the upper level of the Dodge Wing.


The Zimmerli’s permanent collection totals more than 60,000 works in a wide range of media and includes a survey of Western art from the 15th century to the present. As well as Russian art and Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection, the Zimmerli has particularly strong holdings in 19th-century French art, notably prints and rare books, and American art, especially prints. Selections from these holdings, along with focused presentations of European art, art inspired by Japan, ancient Greek and Roman art, Pre-Columbian art, and American illustrations for children’s books, are on view at the Zimmerli permanent collection galleries.


Rutgers, the eighth oldest institution of higher learning in the nation, was chartered as Queen’s College in 1766. In 1825, Queen’s College was renamed in honor of Colonel Henry Rutgers, a former trustee and Revolutionary War veteran. In 1924, Rutgers assumed University status. Legislative acts designated all of the Rutgers divisions combined as “the State University of New Jersey” in 1956. Rutgers University currently enrolls about 56,800 undergraduate and graduate students, with more than 100 undergraduate majors and 180 graduate programs offered at 27 schools and colleges.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street at the corner of George Street on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia and a short walk from a New Jersey Transit station.

Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Wednesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults; $5 for adults over 65, and free for museum members, Rutgers students, faculty and staff (with ID), and children under 18. Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month. For more information, call 848.932.7237 or visit the museum's website: www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu.

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