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Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent.
Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent.

Collectors Linked to Controversy over Counterfeit Russian Artworks Arrested in Belgium

Collectors Igor and Olga Toporovsky, who allegedly lent fake works to the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent for a 2017 exhibition dedicated to the Russian avant-garde, have been arrested in Belgium. The couple were detained on suspicion of fraud and money laundering last month following a criminal complaint that was filed by a group of dealers and collectors based in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe.

Geert Lenssens, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, provided the Art Newspaper with the following statement: “The Toporovskys were arrested early last month by the Belgian federal police after a criminal complaint deposited eighteen months ago by our clients. Both are held in custody; the criminal court prolonged their arrest for one month on Friday 20 December.” Official charges have yet to be filed.

The Toporovskys first came under fire when an open letter signed by a number of curators, scholars, and dealers questioning the authenticity of twenty-four works by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich that were on long-term loan to the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent from the couple’s Dieleghem Foundation began circulating online. Backlash over the exhibition grew when the museum failed to make provenance information available for the pieces.

As criticism of the show mounted, the Flemish culture minister, Sven Gatz, set up an expert committee to assess the works, which were pulled from the exhibition, titled “From Bosch to Tuymans: A Vital Story,” days after the open letter was published. However, a month later, the expert panel disbanded, and the artworks were returned to the foundation. Despite the museum’s claims that it “followed standard procedures to review the loans ahead of the exhibition,” the institution’s director, Catherine de Zegher, was suspended from her position.