In the 1960's and 1970's, American professor Norton Dodge forayed on his own in the Soviet Union, bought the work of underground "unofficial" artists, and brought it out himself or arranged to have it shipped illegally to the United States. John McPhee investigates Dodge's clandestine activities in the service of dissident Soviet art, his motives for his work, and the fates of several of the artists whose lives he touched. The Ransom of Russian Art is a suspenseful, chilling, and fascinating report on a covert operation like no other.
Dissident Soviet painters and sculptors-harassed and spied on by the KGB, their works shown clandestinely or in rare public exhibits-found an ally in Norton Dodge, a University of Maryland economics professor who smuggled their works to the West beginning in the early 1960s. On frequent trips to the Soviet Union, the awkward, gutsy Oklahoma-born art enthusiast visited the homes of underground artists and spent a fortune to buy some 8000 works by 600 artists. His collection, with styles ranging from Pop to abstract expressionism, was recently donated to Rutgers University. Interspersed with color art reproductions (not seen by PW), McPhee's engaging narrative sheds light on this suppressed creative milieu. The prolific author also tracked down migr Soviet artists now living in the U.S., and he ponders the West's relative indifference to their rebellious art. (Nov.)