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From left: Catherine de Zegher, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent in Belgium, and Igor Toporovski, founder of the Dieleghem Foundation. Photo: Dieleghem Foundation.

Panel Created to Verify Authenticity of Russian Avant-Garde Works Lent to Belgian Museum Suddenly Disbands

A panel that was formed to investigate a number of allegedly fake Russian avant-garde works in the exhibition “From Bosch to Tuymans: A Vital Story” at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent in Belgium—including pieces by artists such as Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky that were on loan from the Dieleghem Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the Brussels-based Russian businessman and art collector Igor Toporovski—was dissolved only hours after meeting, reports Simon Hewitt of the Art Newspaper. One day later, the city of Ghent returned the artworks and announced that the loan had been canceled.

The pieces remained in the show for a week after an open letter published by several curators and art dealers on January 15 questioned their authenticity. The panel took more than three weeks to be created. And a number of specialists refused to join, as they were afraid of being intimidated or even being made targets for violence.

A brief to assess the validity of the works was altered at the last minute to ask if the museum had responded to the accusations appropriately and if taking the works out of the show was the right thing to do. But when the panel members convened on February 19, they were met by lawyers working on behalf of the museum’s director—Catherine de Zegher—and the city of Ghent, asking that the panel not start its assessment until the pieces were scientifically inspected and the Dieleghem Foundation felt that there were “reasonable doubts” regarding their authenticity. The gestures were seen as “a de facto veto of our work from the start, so the commission decided to halt its activities,” according to the panel’s chairman, Thomas Leysen, the president of the Friends of the Rubenshuis in Antwerp.

Sven Gatz, the Flemish minister for culture, youth, media, and Brussels, who ordered that the panel be organized in the first place, seemed relieved that it has disbanded (the story about the works has been making waves in the Belgian media for weeks). “I couldn’t care less what happens to these paintings now,” said Gatz. “I have nothing to do with this anymore; full responsibility now lies with the City of Ghent.” Annelies Storms, Ghent’s alderwoman for culture, said, “We are leaving the question of authenticity to the owners” after the loan’s cancelation was announced.

The director of Antwerp’s Rubenshuis, Ben Van Beneden, told the magazine Knack that, unlike the Museum of Fine Arts, most institutions follow strict protocols prior to accepting loans: “All our loans are thoroughly examined by KIK-IRPA [Belgian’s Cultural Heritage Institute] at the lenders’ expense. Provenance must be verified before any paintings are hung, especially if they are ascribed to such important names as those in Ghent. We all dream of someone knocking on the door with six Titians, four Tintorettos and three Veroneses, but if that happens, your warning antennae start twitching.”

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