The Dodge Collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art
Promised Gift: More than 17,300 works
Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University
A truly remarkable collection of Soviet unofficial art has been donated to the Jane Vorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. The generous gift by Nancy and the late Norton Dodge includes more than 17,000 artworks in a variety of media. These will complement the already substantial collection of unofficial Soviet works that the couple donated to the Zimmerli almost 30 years ago. Once it is in possession of the entire Dodge Collection, the Zimmerli will hold the works of more than a thousand nonconformist artists who were active in the later years of the Soviet Union’s existence. Extending far beyond the prominent artist circles in Moscow, the Dodge Collection includes hundreds of works produced in Leningrad and other Russian cities, as well as works made by artists working in the 15 former Soviet republics. It is incredibly rare to find an art collection that allows the viewer to understand an entire society through its art, but this is precisely what the Dodge Collection does. This is one of the greatest private art collections to be assembled in the post-war period, and it is by far the most impressive collection of Soviet unofficial art anywhere in the world today.
Long acknowledged as one of the key centres for research in Soviet art, the Zimmerli will now be able to provide an even more vivid and comprehensive portrait of this fascinating aesthetic universe that has now passed into history. The new donation represents an incredibly broad cross-section of artists, including already well-known figures such as Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid as well as dozens of lesser-known producers who deserve more recognition inside and outside the Russian Federation, such as Boris Orlov, Mikhail Roginsky, Timur Novikov and Vasilii Sitnikov. Of course, on some level, even an American researcher who will benefit directly from the Zimmerli’s devoted curation of these works will also feel a pang of regret that this incredible trove of artworks will reside so far away from the locations in which the art was originally made. As many émigrés – from Vladimir Nabokov to Ilya Kabakov – have noted, Russia’s great artists and great artworks have far too often found their final homes outside Russia. One therefore hopes that the Zimmerli will use the Dodge Collection as a bridge between East and West in the years to come.
Matthew Jesse Jackson is the chair of the department of visual arts at the University of Chicago and author of The Experimental Group: Ilya Kabakov, Moscow Conceptualism, Soviet Avant-Gardes (University of Chicago Press).
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