COLOGNE, Germany — Museums really don’t commonly market fakes in their collections. But the Museum Ludwig right here is exposing them to public scrutiny in a taboo-breaking new exhibition.
The paintings on display in “Russian Avant-Garde at the Museum Ludwig: Authentic and Fake” are all ostensibly by artists from that radical motion of the early 20th century. Nevertheless displayed alongside bona fide will work by renowned artists like Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko and Natalia Goncharova are paintings whose prior attributions museum researchers now reject.
A tide of fakes has polluted this corner of the artwork market place for decades, and the exhibition sheds new light on the pitfalls of purchasing, marketing and collecting Russian avant-garde artwork.
The museum, founded by an endowment from the chocolate magnate Peter Ludwig in the 1970s, is identified for holding a single of the biggest collections of Russian avant-garde artwork in Western Europe. Mr. Ludwig and his wife, Irene, have been avid collectors of the type, and when she died in 2010, she left the museum a bequest of about 600 Russian avant-garde will work.
These integrated a hundred paintings, and researchers at the museum have given that been analyzing them. Of the 49 paintings investigated so far, 22 have been falsely attributed, the researchers say, although they prevent describing them as “forgeries”: From a legal viewpoint, the word implies an intent to deceive that are unable to be verified just by examining the operate.
The display, which started on Saturday and runs by way of Jan. three, was presently the topic of a court dispute in advance of it even opened.
In August, Galerie Gmurzynska, a Swiss gallery that offered about 400 paintings to the Ludwigs, filed a lawsuit demanding that the museum make its study offered in advance of the opening. A regional court rejected the situation final week immediately after the city of Cologne, which owns the museum, appealed an earlier ruling in the gallery’s favor.
When many will work displayed in the exhibition as false attributions have been bought from Galerie Gmurzynska (which also has a presence in New York), so have been some that the museum has affirmed as genuine. The gallery’s proprietor, Krystyna Gmurzynska, mentioned in an interview that it was unfair for the exhibition to open in advance of the study could be thoroughly scrutinized.
She mentioned her gallery had “worked with the most renowned industry experts of the Russian avant-garde,” incorporating: “We would like a bit of respect for what we have attained more than fifty five many years. It can of program be that industry experts created problems more than the many years, but we can not judge that without having seeing the technical reviews.”
Rita Kersting, the deputy director of the Museum Ludwig and a single of the curators of the display, mentioned she hoped the museum’s investigation would assistance guidebook other institutions and collectors in assessing the authenticity of their will work.
“We are open to scholarly contributions and new findings,” she mentioned. “The study is by no means completed.”
In the previous, assessments of Russian avant-garde artwork relied heavily on the opinions of connoisseurs. But investigating irrespective of whether a painting matches an artist’s other will work is only a single aspect of the Museum Ludwig’s study. A 2nd facet is examining the work’s ownership background, and a third is laboratory examination.
The museum’s scientific crew, led by the conservator Petra Mandt, applied tactics like infrared, ultraviolet and X-ray exams, microscope examination, chemical examination and carbon dating.
The researchers utilized these tactics to will work like a painting attributed to Olga Rozanova that Mr. Ludwig purchased from Galerie Gmurzynska in 1985. The Cubist-type painting dated 1913, “Landscape (Decomposition of Types),” is displayed in the exhibition alongside a very similar operate by Rozanova on loan from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, a 1913 canvas identified as “Man in the Street (Examination of Volumes).”
Examinations of the Museum Ludwig’s painting exposed that the materials on which it is mounted includes synthetic polyester fibers that did not exist in 1913. The pigments’ chemical composition was also distinctive from people in other Roznova will work of the time period. The researchers concluded that the Museum Ludwig operate is a later on copy by an unknown artist.
Ms. Gmurzynska mentioned she couldn’t comment on this conclusion without having viewing the laboratory final results. “We really don’t have the technical reviews, so we can not judge,” she mentioned. “It is not new that the painting has parallels to the a single at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.”
But what had angered her, she mentioned, was the use of the word fake in the exhibition title. “They are attempting to push the Russian avant-garde into a dirty corner,” she mentioned. “This is definitely unworthy and unprofessional.”
The troubles are rooted in Russian background. In the 1920s, artists of the avant-garde faced censorship in the Soviet Union. By the ’30s, when Stalin had cemented his electrical power by way of brutal political repression, their will work have been eliminated from public show and hidden.
A market place for artwork smuggled out of the U.S.S.R. started to produce in the West in the 1960s, but mainly because it was unlawful to display them, the will work generally lacked paperwork proving their provenance.
“In this kind of situations, forgers could operate pretty much unfettered,” Konstantin Akinsha, the director of the privately funded Russian Avant-Garde Analysis Venture, wrote in the exhibition catalog.
The stakes in the market place are higher. In 2008, a painting by Malevich fetched $60 million at Sotheby’s. And Goncharova is a single of the most highly-priced female artists at auction — the similar 12 months, a single of her will work offered for pretty much $eleven million at Christie’s.
Nevertheless a series of scandals in latest many years has highlighted the dangers for customers. In the most prominent, the Ghent Museum of Fine Artwork shut down an exhibition of Russian avant-garde artwork in 2018 immediately after dealers and scholars described pieces on display as “highly questionable.” The museum director resigned, and the Belgian police are nevertheless investigating.
Ms. Kersting and Ms. Mandt mentioned they had acquired overpowering help from other institutions for the exhibition in Cologne.
“It was my major be concerned that we would get rejections to our loan requests” Ms. Mandt mentioned. “I was surprised, mainly because it was the actual opposite. That demonstrates there is a serious tide transform: Folks are ready to openly broach a topic that has been taboo until eventually now.”
Each the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the MOMus modern artwork museum in Thessaloniki, Greece, have lent unique will work to be proven alongside later on imitations. The Busch-Reisinger Museum, a single of the Harvard Artwork Museums in Cambridge, Mass., performed laboratory examination of its very own Lissitzky masterpiece, “Proun 12E,” so that the Cologne researchers could assess the findings with a operate in the Museum Ludwig’s assortment that is now viewed as a copy.
Lynette Roth, the head of contemporary and modern artwork at the Busch-Reisinger, mentioned that she had wished to loan the operate, but that logistical issues brought on by the pandemic meant it couldn’t be shipped to Cologne.
“It’s an extremely significant exhibition and a stage in direction of better public transparency,” Ms. Roth mentioned. “It’s specifically the variety of factor we like as a university museum. It pushes the scholarship forward.”
Even the fakes could be valuable “as a level of reference and for educational functions,” mentioned Yilmaz Dziewior, the Museum Ludwig’s director. The museum will retain all of the misattributed will work in its assortment, he mentioned, although they will not be displayed publicly as soon as the recent display finishes.
Ms. Kersting mentioned the exhibition showed that the Museum Ludwig was taking obligation for the integrity of its assortment and acting to safeguard the artists’ operate in a market place swamped with fakes.
“There are a great deal of industry experts in this discipline who signify distinctive vested interests,” she mentioned. “Museums are the appropriate institutions to be advancing this study, mainly because for us it is about scholarship, not industrial interests.”