The focus of the Dissident Collection is on the cultural expressions which questioned and countered the hegemony of Soviet Socialist Realism in the 1950s-80s. Artists, writers, musicians, and even dancers explored bold and contrary esthetic systems alternative to those of the institutions of authority such as the Union of Artists of the USSR, often with dire consequences for personal liberty.

The Dissident Collection contains materials, published and unpublished, which tell the story of this unconventional movement such as exhibition catalogs, critical texts, chronicles, photographs, and correspondence: Kuzminsky, Neizvestny, Nekrasov, Nemukhin, Rabin, Rukhin, Shteinberg, and Vinkovetsky are among the writers and artists represented. Within the context of Soviet culture, many of these artists made original contributions to international styles such as Pop Art, Land Art, and Kinetic Art, to which the extensive visual repertoire of slides, ektachromes, photographs, photocopies, and videos bears ample testimony.  Of particular importance in this respect are the comprehensive collections of materials relating to Infante and Goriunova (Moscow) and to Andrei Tat (Leningrad). The Dissident Collection also contains reference materials concerning the cultural underground in regional centers outside of Moscow and Leningrad such as Kharkov as well as relevant activities in Western Europe and the USA.