As the communist ideal of a workers’ paradise failed to materialize during the Soviet Union’s seven-decade existence, artists expressed their discontent by creating subversive art in a range of media and styles, much of it attracting the unwanted attention of the KGB and other authorities. Living in fear, many artists kept the work under wraps.

Norton Townshend Dodge, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, first visited the Soviet Union in 1955. He returned seven years later and began collecting the art of the Russian underground, going to considerable lengths to have much of it smuggled out of the nation. By 1986, he had accrued a collection that was the largest in the world and, for delighted scholars, the most exhaustive. In 1991, Dodge (who died in 2011) and his wife, Nancy Ruyle Dodge, donated 4,000 works of the art to the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Norton single-handedly saved contemporary Russian art from total oblivion,” wrote John McPhee in his book The Ransom of Russian Art (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1994), quoting art critic Victor Tupitsyn. “This makes him an evangelical figure.”

And so is Nancy Ruyle Dodge, who is pictured on the cover. Recently, she gave the balance of the collection to Rutgers—more than 17,300 artworks in all media, with an estimated value in excess of $34 million. It represents the largest gift ever given to Rutgers. (Accompanying the donation is an endowment of $10 million from the Avenir Foundation, which will curate and conserve the collection.) “Norton and I,” Dodge said, “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.”

Now, art scholars, the Rutgers community, and connoisseurs of art have the holy grail of Soviet art available to them. Read the story “The Art of the Underground,” and learn more at