Arts & Entertainment Editor
Julia Tulovsky, associate curator for Russian and Soviet nonconformist art at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, gave a lecture entitled “Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union” Monday, April 8. The talk focused on the history of the Nonconformist Art Movement, which spanned from the late 1950s to the late 1980s.
Tulovsky mentioned many Russian artists whose influences are still felt, but not recognized as much as they should be -— something Tulovsky cares very deeply about. Because of this, everything she said about the artists was presented in a heartfelt manner, making the talk feel more like a conversation than a lecture.
Tulovsky was born in Moscow and raised in a family of artists, which helped her develop a love and appreciation for art. This appreciation led her to attend Moscow State University, where she received a doctorate in art history after writing a dissertation on the avant-garde artist Liubov Papova. Upon obtaining her doctorate, Tulovsy began working in the position she holds today at the Zimmerli Art Museum, one of the largest and most distinguished university-based museums in the country. Tulovsky has only helped improve that image while being in charge of the largest collection of nonconformist art in the world.
The nonconformist art at the Zimmerli, which provided the basis for Tulovsky’s lecture, is from the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection, which Tulovsky explained to be a collection of art composed of over 20,000 pieces by over 1,000 artists, all of which was collected by Norton Dodge, an economics professor at the University of Maryland. Dodge was working in Russia in the ’50s and ’60s when he fell in love with the art. This love took over his life and its effect will be felt for a long time, just like the art that comprises his collection.
According to Tulovsky, the movement started in Russia with the death of Stalin in 1953. “When Stalin was in power, he sent anyone with a creative spark to labor camps,” Tulovsky said. By 1956, the structures he imposed on Russia were removed, and artists were once again able to express themselves. “[In this time] people who could think differently were released.” However, a great deal of their predecessors’ art was lost to Stalin’s regime, leaving very little to influence their new works.
Without a guide, artists had to work together to develop a new artistic style, leaving behind Social Realism, a form of art that depicts Soviet accomplishments in a realistic manner, while glorifying their leader, an artistic style that Tulovsky believes to be very restricting. This led to the foundation of different groups of artists, such as the Lianozovo group, which Tulovsky cited as one of the most impressive groups of this movement.
The Lianozovo group was based around Oscar Rabin, who painted “Barracks,” the first painting of freedom after the fall of Stalin, and included the artists Vladimir Nemukhin, his wife Lydia Masterkova, and Evgenii Rukhin. This group of artists used a predominantly abstract style and very quickly made a name for themselves.
However, Nikita Khrushchev, Russia’s new leader, felt threatened by the artists and their work. As a result, he refused to give them a venue to display their work. This led to one of the most famous moments in art history, the Bulldozer Exhibit, in which the Lianozovo group decided to have an art show outside after they were denied venues. The Russian government did not approve of this and tried shutting it down, eventually resorting to running over the exhibit with bulldozers.
This is the perfect representation of the relationship between government and art in Russia, which is always a struggle. Tulovsky thought it should also be noted that, even after all of this, Ernest Neizvestny, one of the artists who stood up to the government, still sculpted Khrushchev’s tombstone.
“I think this shows the relationship between the government and artists,” Tulovsky said.
The impact of the nonconformist movement can still be felt today, all over the world.
“It’s a huge part of the historical landscape, but it’s not recognized enough,” Tulovsky said.
This is something Tulovsky wants to change, as she spreads awareness through giving lectures and curating the Zimmerli Art Museum. To her, the museum provides the most rewarding aspect of her career, as she gets to work with original works of art from this movement.
“Working with original pieces, I believe, is the most rewarding part of my job.”
Although, when asked if she had a favorite painting, she stated: “I do not think I’m allowed to [have a favorite]. They’re all very good.”
“[Working with the art still presents challenges, but I] believe it’s very rewarding to overcome them,” Tulvosky said.
The results of Tulovsky overcoming these challenges, as well as the Nonconformists overcoming the obstacles they faced, can be seen in the history and artwork on display at the Zimmerli Art Museum.
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