Scandal in the “Rostov Kremlin”: “the Americans will twist a finger at a temple”

As usual, the political fever was followed by cultural: state Museum-reserve “Rostov Kremlin” wants to return from the new York MOMA Museum and the Hellenic Museum of contemporary art in Thessaloniki the original paintings of Kazimir Malevich and Lyubov Popova. It is reported that in the Soviet years, they were stolen is unknown, who replaced the Museum’s original copy. After an internal investigation and a number of examinations held in the year 2017, the Rostov Museum has registered two paintings in the missing persons database and lost valuables of the Ministry of culture and declared discovered the theft in the Russian police. However, in this story it’s not as easy as it seems.

Left: a work from a Museum in Rostov. Right: a work by Kazimir Malevich Samovar MOMA.

In the Museum an extensive collection of Russian avant-garde. According to our data, today it has 44 works: 30 paintings, 12 graphics, 1 — wooden sculpture, 1 — piece of metal. By results of examination (tests were carried out at the Institute of Precambrian Geology (Saint-Petersburg), State research Institute of restoration, the State Russian Museum) fake recognized two things: Samovar (circa 1913) by Kazimir Malevich and “non-objective composition” (1918), Lyubov Popova. The experts came to the unanimous opinion that these works were created in the second half of the twentieth century.

The debate on the authenticity of these things even 30 years ago, raised art historian, an expert on Russian avant-garde Svetlana Jafarova. In 1987, she worked on the foreign exhibitions of Russian avant-garde and noticed that these two works from the Rostov Museum differs from other works of Russian avant-garde and are probably later forgeries. In January 1997, the academician Dmitry Sarabianov was published in the American journal Art News letter “Variants or fakes”, which rejected the arguments of Jafarova. Categorical position a respected colleague put a temporary point in the unfolding scandal. However, Jafarov his views have not changed, as far as we know, until now.

Why now “Rostov Kremlin” began to sound the alarm? In short, the position of the Museum is: that “the current administration of the Museum until recently, did not know about the existence of serious problems related to the avant-garde collection”. Supposedly “the Museum team was aware of existing in the Museum of modern art in new York, the “Samovar”. But the existence of Djafarova article and a debate with her Sarabyanova, serious argument about the existence in the collection of the avant-garde of the Museum of fakes of administration was not known”.

But how is this possible if the current administration of the Museum came not six months and not a year ago, and in 2010? As a rule, in such cases, familiarization with the “economy” starts with the problem areas.

However, we are told that “this issue arose only in connection with the study of the Museum’s collection after the detection of forgeries received from Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky”. In his case the experts still have many questions.


The permanent exhibition of the MOMA. Photo: MoMA.

So, the examination showed that Jafarov was right in these two cases: “Samovar” and “Objectless composition” is a forgery. Jafarov not communicate, the Director of the Rostov Museum Natalia Karofsky too.

But when MOMA. We got acquainted with the catalogue of the Museum collection and found that the Samovar was purchased in 1983. Before that, he belonged to McCrory Corporation (the owner was then the American billionaire of Jewish descent Meshulam Riklis). He probably acquired the painting in 1972 at Sotheby’s in London. Further provenance goes in 1922, in Rostov Museum. So MOMA does not deny the origin of the picture.

— The situation in the Rostov Museum has a long history, says art historian specializing in the early twentieth century, Alexander Arzamastsev. The picture of Malevich Samovar owned by the Museum, was replaced by the copy and the original was sold in 1972 at Sotheby’s. To this day no one claims the IOM is not present, probably did not want to spoil relations. As to the paintings of Lyubov Popova from the collection of George Costakis in the Museum of Thessaloniki, also swapped out for a copy in the Rostov Museum probably didn’t want to spoil the image of the “Great collector, the Savior of the Russian avant-garde,” which appeared in the image of the speculator and the fence. The topic raised the fate of the Museum collections of the former USSR, one of the most actual nowadays, when we hear at every step: fakes forgeries! This usually comes from people who don’t even represent the realities of Soviet life. In this situation probably ought to set up a competent Commission, which would be able to develop an appropriate methodology and not to resort to methods of “Amateur”, which is so fond of Rostov Museum.


The exhibition Russian avant-garde. A photo Museum “Rostov Kremlin”.

…Meanwhile, the Rostov Museum has promised to continue the investigation and to make every effort to return the stolen values.

— And then what? Nothing to prove now too muddy situation, both culturally and politically, — says our source, who requested anonymity to avoid trouble from influential people. Culture in this sense, unfortunately, mirror the policy, and often crooked. I know that in 1987, our Museum staff has attempted to prove his position (on the authenticity of “Samovar” and “non-objective composition” and their presence in new York) on upper level, even with MOMA negotiated. Then the leadership of the Museum did not put a picture in the permanent exhibition, even did not publish it in the catalog. It was later published in the directory about Malevich Charlotte Douglas and Andrei Nakov, this unleashed the Museum hands. Then we had the leadership of our country to put pressure on the IOM and ask them to return to work, but our politicians are not always to culture.


Left: a work from a Museum in Rostov. Right: the work of Liubov Popova from the Museum of contemporary art in Thessaloniki.

— Now it is foolish to take such attempts?

— Yes you can, any attempt to take only the Americans will twist a finger at a temple and go on. Especially after the Schneerson library. Happily, such stories are resolved voluntarily. In the good times. But here the situation is on the brink of war, what kind of culture are we talking about? Who plead for her? The people in the museums are shaking, deny everything, when there are questions about the originals and falshaki, and say that they are profitable. And it is profitable what is beneficial to the ruling elite with the money in the collection which serious things Russian avant-garde. A good time for them now is: can you think of reasons for infospiral. Avant-garde all at once at the hearing and appreciates in value. C’est La vie capitalist time.

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