The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Jersey announced today that it has received a donation of 17,300 works of Soviet nonconformist art—the largest single gift in its history. The $34 million collection was donated by Nancy Ruyle, the widow of Norton Dodge, an economics professor who, during the Cold War, amassed the world’s largest holdings of Soviet dissident art.
Created by more than one thousand artists, the works date from 1956—the year that Nikita Khruschev gave a “secret speech” to the Twentieth Party Congress, denouncing Stalinism and initiating a cultural thaw—through 1991, the end of the Mikhail Gorbachev era.
The gift “makes the museum the world’s principal site for studying and exhibiting the most vital, diverse, and daring strains of art produced throughout the USSR over four decades,” Thomas Sokolowski, director of the Zimmerli, and Nevin Kessler, president of the Rutgers University Foundation, said in a statement. These works join four thousand other Soviet nonconformist works that Nancy Ruyle Dodge and her late husband gave to the institution in 1991.
“My husband Norton and I felt it was our mission to bring to light these remarkable works that had been consigned to obscurity, and to honor artists of exceptional talent who had been suppressed and defamed,” Nancy Ruyle Dodge said. “We entrusted Rutgers with an initial gift from the collection because we believed the university deeply understood our goals and had both the scholarly resources and the institutional will to realize our purpose. Now, more than a quarter of a century later, I know our confidence was well placed. I am very pleased to donate the collection in its entirety to Rutgers, as the best and only place for it to reside.”
The museum has also received an endowment of $10 million from the Avenir Foundation, the second endowment gift to the Zimmerli from the foundation. A selection of the Dodges’ holdings is currently on view in the museum’s exhibition “Commemorating the Russian Revolution, 1917/2017,” which will run through February 18, 2018.