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Installation of works attributed to Russian avant-garde artists at the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts that was removed following an outcry from experts. Photo: MSK Ghent.

Belgian Police Raid Homes as Investigation into Ghent Museum Exhibition Continues

Following the suspension of the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent over an exhibition of Russian avant-garde works that experts alleged were fakes, the Belgian police have raided a series of homes that may be connected to the controversy.

Catherine de Zegher was temporarily removed from her post as the head of the institution last week, pending the results of an external audit. She first came under fire for organizing a show featuring twenty-six works loaned from the collection of Russian businessman Igor Toporovski’s Dieleghem Foundation.

Three months later, after the works were installed, a group of ten art historians, curators, and dealers penned an open letter criticizing the exhibition, which they called “highly questionable.” They raised concerns about the provenance of the pieces and claimed that they were never mentioned in any known scholarship. As a result, the museum removed the works, which were attributed to artists including Wassily Kandinsky and Vladimir Tatlin, and ended the loan agreement.

De Zegher has since faced intense scrutiny for failing to properly check the loaned works and for not cooperating with city officials—she alleged that she consulted with art historians Magdalena Dabrowski and Noemi Smolik to authenticate the pieces before displaying them in the museum, but they later refuted the claim. In response to the situation, the city’s councilor of culture, Annelies Storms, said that the board “lost trust” in the director.

According to Daniel Boffey of The Guardian, the art market in Europe is filled with counterfeit Russian artworks. On Friday, March 16, the Wiesbaden regional court in Germany sentenced two men to prison and ordered them to pay fines for selling forged artworks that were attributed to artists such as El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, and Alexander Rodchenko.

Ghent’s prosecutor’s office confirmed that a formal civil complaint, filed by four dealers from New York and London, as well as a descendant of an artist, prompted the recent raids that were carried out in East Flanders on Monday. The Belgian newspaper De Standaard reported that detectives confiscated documents and computers during their investigation.

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