Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers Highlights Early Revelations in Soviet Nonconformist Art

December 19, 2011

New Brunswick, NJ – The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers continues its series of one-person shows devoted to Soviet nonconformist artists with In the Search of an Absolute: Art of Valery Yurlov, on view through April 14, 2013. Yurlov stands out as one of the earliest proponents of analytical abstraction within Soviet nonconformist art and was among those brave artists who, as early as the 1950s, defied the harsh restrictions placed on artists by the Communist government.

“We are very pleased to spotlight these 50 pioneering works, selected from more than 200 by the artist in the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection at the Zimmerli,” says director Suzanne Delehanty.

The exhibition focuses on works from the late 1950s and 1960s, with a few later pieces from the collection of the artist. “Valery Yurlov continues the intellectual traditions of the Russian avant-garde of the 1920s,” notes Dr. Julia Tulovsky, Associate Curator of Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art. However, in order to pursue his artistic journey, he chose to live in a self-imposed exile away from any art community that might drag him into politics.

Born in 1932 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, near the border with China, Valery Yurlov’s childhood and young adult experiences shaped his lifelong artistic endeavors. As a schoolboy, Yurlov had access to a vast library, learning about the lives and practices of the masters in art, as well as absorbing a rich visual history. During World War II, Russia’s intelligentsia and thousands fleeing the Nazis found refuge in Almaty, creating a rich socio-cultural environment, far from the atmosphere of war in Moscow and Leningrad. Yurlov’s family befriended many of these dislocated intellectuals, who guided the precocious boy’s academic and artistic curiosities. Though not yet a teenager, Yurlov began advanced classes at the Almaty Art School. With exposure to a broad range of historical and contemporary philosophies at a relatively young age, Yurlov recognized early that he aspired to develop as an artist independent of existing movements.

In 1949, Yurlov entered Moscow Polygraphic Institute, the leading center for the study of book and graphic design, where he was a student of Vladimir Favorsky and Petr Miturich. Both of these teachers preserved the traditions of artistic freedom of the 1920s, which were prohibited by the emergence of Socialist Realism, the art style based on Communist collective propaganda and the only method permitted in the Soviet Union at the time. They covertly taught their students that the most important considerations in creating art are form, texture, composition, and structure – not the ideological subject matter supported by the official doctrine. They encouraged independent artistic thinking and gave their students absolute creative freedom, another risky endeavor at the time.

The legacy of his teachers manifested itself in Yurlov’s life-long search for an absolute, or a form, constructed in accordance with universal principles. As early as 1959, Yurlov began experimenting with the concept of a para-form, or a pair of forms, which has significantly defined his artistic path. Throughout his career, he has explored and continues to analyze the endless possibilities of para-forms and their interrelationships, ranging from harmony to conflict. Duality, the union of opposites that underlies the universe, constitutes the deeper meaning of Yurlov’s paintings, drawings, and reliefs.

Although Yurlov incorporated the latest developments and theories in contemporary art – such as neo-constructivism, structuralism, impermanence, and even performance art – he continued to work outside established circles of artists. Yurlov also stayed beyond the confines of politics, never yielding to the temptation of using ideology in his art. He made his living as a freelance illustrator during school and for much of his adult life, allowing him to live outside of Moscow and freely develop his own artistic language.

Meet Valery Yurlov, who is based in Moscow, during Art After Hours on Wednesday, April 4, 2012. In addition to a discussion with the artist, the evening features an exhibition tour of In the Search of an Absolute with Dr. Julia Tulovsky and a performance of contemporary Russian music by Mason Gross School of the Arts students. Art After Hours is the popular eclectic evening series held on the first Wednesday of the month from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Zimmerli, inviting visitors to explore the galleries, as well as enjoy a variety of entertainment.

This exhibition is curated by Dr. Julia Tulovsky, Associate Curator of Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art, with assistance by Olena Martynyuk and Corina Apostol, graduate students in the Department of Art History and Dodge Fellows at the Zimmerli Art Museum. Most of the works are drawn from the museum’s 20,000-piece Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art, the largest and most comprehensive collection of Soviet dissident art from the historical Cold War period between 1956 and 1986.

This exhibition is made possible by the Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund.

Zimmerli Art Museum

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in nineteenth-century French art; Russian art, from icons to avant-garde material; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.


The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; Johnson & Johnson; and the donors, members, and friends of the museum.


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

Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays, major holidays, and the month of August. Please note the museum is closed December 24 and 25, and January 1.

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


Who to contact: