Belgian museum closes Russian art exhibition amid forgery claims

Belgian museum closes Russian art exhibition amid forgery claims
Image: Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Ghent

29 January 2018

A museum in Belgium has been forced to close a controversial Russian art exhibition amid claims that its avant-garde masterpieces are in fact forgeries.

The Museum voor Schone Kunsten (MSK) cut short its exhibition in Ghent following an investigation by The Art Newspaper.

The collection, which included supposedly “never before seen pieces” by Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, had already attracted condemnation from art world experts who doubted the paintings’ murky origins.

The 26 pieces, many of which had no previous exhibition history, were loaned to the museum by a charitable foundation backed by Russian businessman Igor Toporovski and his wife Olga.

MSK staff said that the foundation had provided evidence of the paintings’ authenticity, but research by journalists has since shed doubt on the documents themselves.

One museum leaflet, which appeared to show artwork owned by Toporovski at the Kharkov Art Museum in 1992, was dismissed by the institute’s director as a fake. Valentina Myzgina, who took up her post in 1993 after working at the museum for more than 20 years, said that the pamphlet was an doctored version of a museum catalogue from 1998.

The Art Newspaper also claimed Igor had previously been questioned by police in Russia as part of an fraud case in 2006. Police jailed two Russian art dealers connected with the pair as part of the investigation, but Toporovski himself was never charged.

Igor and Olga Toporovski strongly deny all of the charges against them.

The museum, the Toporovskis , and the Flemish government have since agreed to test the paintings’ origns, with Culture Minister Sven Gatz claiming that the investigation would “provide clarity.”

Gatz also defended MSK staff, who he said had followed standard museum proceedures. “The museum indeed took all of the necessary precautions”, he told Belgium’s VRT NWS news outlet. “But the controversy here is so great that we have to take additional steps.”