November 01, 2020

Russian Faux Art

Russian Faux Art
Museum Ludwig Rheinisches Bildarchiv, Cologne/ Chrysant Scheewe

The Russian avant-garde, a movement that revolutionized Russian art, but whose relationship with the Bolshevik revolution frayed over time, has tickled the imaginations of art lovers for decades. Avant-garde art never seems to go out of fashion.

It is also a favorite of counterfeiters: Stalin’s quashing of the movement, other political shifts in the Soviet Union, war, and finally perestroika made it somewhat easier to hide fake paintings’ dodgy provenance, while the market value of works by Malevich and Kandinsky, as well as less prominent artists, makes them some of the most sought-after names in the world.

But in 2017 one scandal too many shook the art world: a prominent Belgian museum opened an exhibit with works that art historians and experts designated as blatant fakes being passed off as genuine by a collector named Igor Toporovski. The show caused an unprecedented storm in normally placid and prim art circles. A group of respected avant-garde specialists even wrote an open letter, asking that the paintings be taken down. Several months after the opening, the museum finally obliged.

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