Norton Dodge, an economics professor who in the course of research trips to study arcana like tractors and workforce demographics managed quietly to amass the world’s largest collection of nonconformist Soviet art, died on Nov. 5 in Washington. He was 84.The cause was multiple organ failure, his wife, Nancy, said. The couple had lived for many years at Cremona, a 978-acre estate in Mechanicsville, Md., whose 40-odd buildings long groaned with paintings, prints and other work made covertly from the 1950s to the 1980s.
That trove now forms the core of the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art From the Soviet Union, part of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
For “nonconformist” read “dissident,” and for “dissident” read “dangerous”: the term describes any art, including political, religious and Surrealist work, that did not hew to the narrow, state-sanctioned confines of Socialist Realism. During the Soviet era, the making of such art could result in the artist’s being ostracized, exiled, imprisoned or worse.
The Dodge Collection, which opened to the public in 1995, now comprises about 20,000 works. Artists represented there include some who are well known in the West today, among them the conceptual artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid.
Professor Dodge and the underground artists whose work he helped save are the subjects of a book, “The Ransom of Russian Art” (1994), by John McPhee. In his academic life, Professor Dodge was a scholar of Soviet economics who taught for many years at the University of Maryland. At his death he was emeritus professor of economics at St. Mary’s College of Maryland..
The Norton & Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union (1956-1986)
This is the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind in the world. Comprising more than 17,000 works of art, this collection documents Soviet dissident art from the historical Cold War period (1956-1986)–from Khruschev’s cultural “thaw” to Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika. Soviet artists working in opposition to the government-prescribed style of Social Realism risked personal safety, imprisonment, and exile in their quest for individual expression