Russian artistic tradition, which in its richness of talent throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries was considered to be second only to France, has suffered tremendously in the period of the Soviet rule. Government-promoted atheism has suppressed any religion-based forms of expression and either destroyed or relegated to obscurity such works created in the pre-revolutionary period. Meanwhile, the prevalence of Socialist Realism as the only acceptable artistic style resulted in stunting the talent of many artists for decades, forcing them either to toe the party line or hide their works in private apartments and cellars because of the risk of being persecuted for them. The Russian art did not exactly die in the almost 80 years of the Soviet rule, but it was forced underground and abroad, while the Soviet art, such as it was, revolved exclusively around the issues of Communist propaganda. Private collecting of art was just that – private, with the only people able to see it being those within the very close, trusted circle around the artist or collector. There was no possibility of private curatorship as well – the state was supposed to provide for every need of its citizens, including the artistic ones. These conditions, combined with the specifics of the post-Soviet economic development in Russia, have exerted and continue to exert tremendous influence on the development of Russian contemporary art and the market for it.
It is not surprising that, as of right now, Russian contemporary art is better known and creates more demand abroad rather than within the Russian borders. The majority of official collectors during the Soviet era were either political dissidents who were either driven out of the Soviet Union or left the country voluntarily, or children of political emigrants. One example of such collectors is George Riabov, a son of political emigrants, who began collecting Russian artwork since 1967. While his collection is widely inclusive and contains Orthodox icons and folkloric prints alongside the avant-garde work of Soviet dissident artists like Lydia Masterkova, Dmitri Plavinsky, Oskar Rabin, and Vladimir Weisberg, one common element of the collection is that practically no works included in it have been viewed in the country where they were originally produced because they were suppressed by the Soviet state ideology. As a result, the collection traveled to exhibits around the world and finally ended up at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Jersey, to which Riabov donated it in 1990.
Expatriates and their children are not the only ones who have been collecting Russian contemporary art. Such collectors as Norton and Nancy Dodge, who also donated their artistic holdings to the Zimmerli Art Museum in 1995, have amassed large and comprehensive collections of Russian nonconformist art of the Soviet period from the time of the Khrushchev Thaw period in late 1950s – early 1960s and until the removal of ideological barriers on artistic expression in the early 1990s. Norton Dodge began this collection in the 1960s, visiting the USSR as a professor of Soviet economics. Having been introduced to the underground nonconformist artistic scene, Dodge began acquiring art pieces he saw at various unofficial private showings of such works. At the time he and his wife finally donated the collection, it consisted of over 900 pieces, none of them ever viewed in the Soviet Union but all of which help reconstruct the struggle of the underground movement to fill the artistic gap created by Socialist Realism in an atmosphere of constant suspicion, repression, and persecution.
The common element for the collectors mentioned above, of course, is that all of them – regardless of their national origins – have collected Russian contemporary art from outside the borders of the Soviet Union, purchasing works smuggled out of the country or buying from artists who themselves worked outside the borders of the Soviet empire. The exhibitions of these collections were the only official outlet through which Russian contemporary art could make its way to critics and consumers worldwide – but not to Russians living in any of the 15 Soviet republics. All private collections by Russian citizens residing in Russia, which have come and continue coming into the public light since the re-introduction of the freedom of expression, have been amassed unofficially and clandestinely, displayed in what became known as “apartment exhibitions” only to the most trusted persons. Many of these collectors still prefer to remain private, and even some of those who do release their collections for public consumption do so reluctantly and decline to comment on either the collections or reactions of critics and audiences to the news media.
 Nora Fitzgerald, “Reviving a Revolutionary Tradition.” ARTNews (June 2007), p. 90.
 Myroslava Mudrak, “Russian Artistic Modernism and the West: Collectors, Collections, Exhibitions, and Artists.” Russian Review 58, no. 3 (July 1999), p. 468.
 ibid, p. 469.
 Mudrak, p. 469.
 Nora Fitzgerald, “Going Public.” ARTNews (February 2007), p. 125.