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Rutgers receives $34M collection of Soviet-era art

The university says the value of the bequest to Zimmerli Art Museum makes it Rutgers' largest ever single donation.

Boris Orlov, “The General,” 1982. Painted wood. Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union.
Boris Orlov, “The General,” 1982. Painted wood. Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union.Read moreRutgers University

Rutgers University has received what it says is its largest-ever single donation, a huge collection of Soviet nonconformist art valued at more than $34 million.

Nancy Dodge, widow of famed economist and art collector Norton Dodge, is the donor of the collection, which contains over 17,300 artworks, the university said in a statement Thursday. The works will join the body of over 4,000 pieces of Soviet nonconformist art the Dodges donated in 1991 to Rutgers' Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick, N.J.

"It is staggering to have the entire collection brought together at last," said Thomas Sokolowski, director of the Zimmerli.

The Dodge family-related Avenir Foundation also will provide an endowment of $10 million for exhibiting and conserving the art and for scholarships.

The joined collections contain the work of more than 1,000 artists who were active between the 1950s and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

The newly donated works include paintings on canvas and panel, sculptures, assemblages, installations, works on paper, photographs, videos, and artists' books.

Besides Russia, the collection includes works produced in the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, the university said.

"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," Dodge said in a statement.

The university said the donation 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."

"This remarkable gift underscores our university's cultural and educational value to our global society," said Deba Dutta, chancellor of Rutgers=New Brunswick.

The largest donation Rutgers had previously received was $27 million from an anonymous donor in 2011 to fund endowed chair positions.