Mora Museum New Jersey

Artworks on display at the Mora Museum of New Jersey.

Mora Museum in Jersey City, NJ

Published: May 29, 2024

The Mora Museum, formerly known as the Museum of Russian Art, is a cultural fixture of Jersey City, NJ.  It has a deep historical connection to the Nonconformist Movement in Russian art, and more recently has embraced contemporary movements such as those exemplified by artists like 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.

Spornikov’s rendering of Ukrainian physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov.

The incident took place during what has been called the “Era of Stagnation,” a term that could be applied to both the USSR’s economy and its cultural 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 policy still ebbed and flowed as forward-looking artists pushed against 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 still often faced repression, had great difficulty finding showings for their work. 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.

The Eubanks say one of the highlights of their collection was a series of anti-Soviet paintings by Ukraine’s Boris Spornikov (1930-2005). The paintings were never exhibited until the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Each painting was a masterwork depicting such themes as famous Soviet citizens persecuted or killed by the Soviets, such as (Andrei) Sakharov and (Aleksandr) Solzhenitsyn,” says Scott Eubanks. “They were dark and moody and living history – not for everyone’s wall above the fireplace.”

In Spornikov’s painting of Soviet-nuclear-physicist-turned-dissident-political-activist Sakharov, the scientist stands with notebooks under one arm and with bird feed in another, attracting a flock while standing against a darkened Kremlin. The Kiev-born artist painted in a socialist realism style and, in addition to having prominent Soviet citizens as his subjects, he also painted portraits of oil workers and scenes from collective farms.

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The Mora Museum, formerly known as the Museum of Russian Art, is a cultural fixture of Jersey City, NJ.  It has a deep historical connection to the Nonconformist Movement in Russian art, and more recently has embraced contemporary movements such as those exemplified by artists like Elena Sarni, Leonid Lerman, Vasily Kafanov and Naum Medovoy. […]

About the author

Elizabeth Rogers

Elizabeth Everts Rogers has an undergraduate degree in International Studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a master’s in European and Russian Studies from Yale University. She hails originally from Omaha, Nebraska.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

View all posts by: Elizabeth Rogers