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Northwestern PhD student, scholar of Soviet-era art, found dead in Rogers Park

Northwestern University. | Sun-Times File

A Northwestern University graduate student known for her scholarly work on Soviet-era art was found dead Tuesday at her Rogers Park apartment.

Chicago police officers responded shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday to an apartment in the 1100 block of West Farwell Avenue to conduct a well-being check and found a 36-year-old woman dead, according to a spokeswoman for the department.

Northwestern officials identified the woman as Alexandra “Sasha” Novozhenova, a third-year PhD student in the Department of Art History.

Detectives were conducting a death investigation and foul play was not suspected in Novozhenova’s death, police said.

Alexandra “Sasha” Novozhenova | Northwestern University

“Those who knew Sasha describe her as a fierce presence and a sharp intellect,” Dean Teresa K. Woodruff said in an email to students. “As an art critic, art historian and lecturer, she focused on the Soviet avant-garde, Socialist Realism and late Soviet art discourses and their post-Soviet aftermath.”

Novozhenova “was embarking on a dissertation on what she called ‘energetics’ — the energy unleashed by socialist enthusiasm — as a novel way to understand Socialist Realism as a continuation of the political energies of the avant-garde, rather than its demise,” according to the university.

Gretchen Rachel Hammond, a freelance journalist who was subletting her apartment to Novozhenova, said she was surprised to learn of her death. Novozhenova had sent Hammond an email only hours before she was found dead letting Hammond know she had paid the rent.

“She was very nice, but shy” Hammond said of Novozhenova, who had moved into the apartment in January and was planning to stay through June. “It’s a shock.”

An autopsy was conducted by the Cook County medical examiner’s office, which has not ruled on the cause and manner of Novozhenova’s death pending further investigation and the results of routine toxicology tests, authorities said.