The Museum of Russian Art in Jersey City, NJ has a deep historical connection to the Nonconformist movement in Russian art, and it has recently begun to embrace contemporary movements. It reopened in November of 2010 after a period of extensive restructuring. New artists have been added to its repertoire, including Elena Sarni, Leonid Lerman, Vasily Kafanov and Naum Medovoy.
The museum’s first director, Alexander Glezer, while still living and working in the Soviet Union, had helped to organize the infamous Nonconformist showing in 1974, later dubbed the “Bulldozer Exhibition.” To showcase the artwork, an unofficial “gallery” had been erected in a field, only to be violently plowed down by the police, who employed bulldozers and water trucks. Many works of art were confiscated by police while others were destroyed on the spot.
The incident took place during what has been called the era of stagnation with regard to artistic policy. Many artistic movements began to blossom during this era, but government controls forced many nonconformists to move underground or go overseas. A gradual loosening of government controls on art had begun in 1953 with Stalin’s death, but moving forward required a lot of back-and-forth between forward-looking artists and the entrenched establishment. By the 70s and 80s the Nonconformist movement had gained tremendous, if ‘unofficial’ cultural importance, pushing further and further away from government-mandated Socialist Realism. Still, Russian artists who lacked official sanction too often faced repression, had great difficulty finding showings for their work and many were forced to emigrate. Many of those emigrants found a home in Jersey City’s art scene during the 80s and 90s, when the Museum of Russian Art enjoyed its hey-day as a hub of intellectual and artistic collaboration among Russian immigrants.
Glezer was a collector of Nonconformist artwork, and when he left Russia in 1975, he took the controversial works he’d accumulated with him, first to France and then to America. It was in America that he found a home for his collection. On the sixth anniversary of the Bulldozer Exhibition, September 15, 1980, the Museum of Russian Art opened to the public.
During the 80s and 90s, the museum enjoyed an enormous influx of creative energies, thanks to Russian artists immigrating to the states. Exhibits during this period featured works by a vast array of Nonconformist visionaries. This list includes Erik Bulatov, Alexander Kharitonov, Dmitry Krasnopevtsev, Evgeny Kropivnitsky, Lidia Masterkova, Vladimir Nemukhin, Ernst Neizvestny, Oscar Rabin, Eduard Shteinberg, Boris Sveshnikov, Oleg Tselkov, Oleg Vasiliev, Vladimir Yakovlev, and Anatoly Zverev, among many others.
Today, the museum lives on in the same historic corner of Grant Street that two decades ago was filled with the wild bohemian energy of a displaced artistic movement. The MoRA in Jersey City once acted as a cultural, intellectual gathering place as well as an artistic showroom for Russian artists. Its rooms were frequently packed with artists of all sorts reveling in the creative energy of the moment. The new embodiment of the museum aims to both educate the public on Russian art and to contextualize its own role within Russian art history. Ultimately, the museum expects to include works from earlier periods of Russian art and to show work by more Russian artists who have moved from Russia. Recent events at the museum have included a series of one-act Chekhov plays, jazz performances, and talks on Russian literature.
The building neighbors the business district, and is thus tucked beneath skyscrapers and within a short walk of panoramic views of nearby Manhattan.
Source Material From:
The Quest for Self-Expression: Painting in Moscow and Leningrad 1965-1990 Ed. Roberts, Norma, 1990.