Russian fakes, anyone?

May 10, 2022 | Authentications & attributions

Crypto currency, NFT and a (fake?) Kandinsky for sale on a Russian website “to help the soldiers of Donbass”

The Terricon Project, Art for Victory, selling art, is being advertised online apparently “to help those in need” because of the war, i.e.. Russians, trying to grasp the opportunity offered by cryptocurrency: “in Russia, as well as Russians living abroad, there is more than 30% of the world’s total cryptocurrency. Now many are faced with the problem of blocking accounts, the inability to send finances. (…). It is here that you can absolutely anonymously help the Russian people right now”.

However, although signed and dated to 1909, the Kandinsky artwork for sale is likely to be a fraud. It was actually already questioned in 2005 when it was published in an “alternative” catalogue raisonné that provoked a scandal and the sharp criticism of the Kandinsky Society.

This is not surprising as the Russian Avant-Garde authentication world is a disaster, where the forgers are abundant and there are more fakes than genuine pictures.

It was the fall of Communism to fuel the Avant-Garde black market. The subsequent crisis paved the way for a market flooded with forgeries.

In the mid of 1920ies, Malevich and other contemporary artists were attacked by Stalin, who defined their work as “bourgeois” and confiscated many artworks. Once Russia liberalized its economy in the 1990s, their fate was reversed and such paintings became status symbols among Moscow’s oligarchs, and prices skyrocketed.
Another consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union, was that major state museums and conservation institutes—including the Tretyakov Gallery and the Grabar Restoration Center—went into the business of issuing certificates of authenticity.

In some cases it was a too tempting occasion. If it is hard to imitate a Rubens, it is apparently much easier to invent a Malevich or a Kandinsky worth tens of millions each, and even simpler to issue fraudulent certificates.

The painting on sale for the Terricon project is supplied with certificates issued by the Department of Expertise exactly by the Tretyakov Gallery. And, this is far to be a reliable proof.

An internal Tretyakov investigation established that among the 212 paintings that had been examined by the museum’s department of expertise, 96 were mistakenly certified as genuine. As a consequence in 2006 the Russian ministry of culture prohibited institutions under its control from being involved in the certification of artworks. Yet, although in 2016 the Department of Expertise was disbanded, such certificates still circulate and may deceive naive collectors.

The painting offered on the website also appeared in the monumental monograph, “Kandinsky in Russia”, written by Valery Turchin, an art historian and professor at Moscow State University, whose publication was supported financially by the Russian government.

However, if there is one artist of the Russian avant-garde whose heritage has been sheltered, this is Vasily Kandinsky. In fact, neither Sotheby’s nor Christie’s nor any other major dealer will accept an artwork unless the Kandinsky Society in Paris has accepted the work for its catalogue raisonné.

The society, which is based in the Pompidou Center, was established in 1979 by the artist’s widow to protect and promote Kandinsky’s legacy. The directors of the three museums that hold the major part of Kandinsky’s works in the West—the National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Center, the Lenbachhaus in Munich, and the Guggenheim Museum—are also members. The society does not hand out certificates; it informs owners that it will—or will not—list their works in its ongoing multivolume catalogue raisonné.
However, in practise it is a monopoly on Kandinsky authentication, that has raised more than one eyebrows. And it risks to cause political clashes as in Moskow not everybody agrees that should be a Western institution to decide on a Russian artist.

But it is certainly not challenged by Turchin and his “Society of Admirers of the Art of Wassily Kandinsky”, established in 2004. The organization has no headquarters. Its official activities have been limited to the publication of Turchin’s monograph and the installation of a memorial plaque on the house where Kandinsky lived in Moscow.
In fact, Turchin even certified a fake painting by Kandinsky that was confiscated by Italian police in 2011.

According to the Terricon Project, Sotheby’s has estimated the canvas at €10m. However, a Sotheby’s spokesperson told The Art Newspaper that the auction house “does not confirm estimates for artworks without first inspecting them in person, and establishing their authenticity”.
For what we can see on the website, there are no bids for the NFTs, and we hope that the war will end soon and certainly before anyone pays 10millions for a fake.

Anna Pelagotti

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