Catherine de Zegher.

Artists Denounce Suspension of Ghent Museum of Fine Arts Director in Open Letter

Over sixty art workers have signed an impassioned open letter protesting the temporary dismissal of director Catherine de Zegher from the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium. De Zegher was suspended from her role in March after the Art Newspaper reported that the museum may have mounted forged artworks in an exhibition of Russian avant-garde art. De Zegher has recently filed a complaint with the city of Ghent concerning her suspension, according to De Standaard.  

De Zegher has faced intense scrutiny for “Russian Modernism 1910–30,” a show that included twenty-six artworks from the collection of Russian businessman Igor Toporovski’s Dieleghem Foundation. The exhibition was closed three months after it opened last October, after a group of Russian avant-garde art experts wrote an open letter voicing their skepticism about the provenance of the pieces, which, they claim, have not been mentioned in any scholarship. The works in the show were attributed to El Lissitzky, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Kazimir Malevich, and Wassily Kandinsky, among other artists. Ghent’s councilor of culture, Annelies Storms, said that the board has “lost trust” in de Zegher, citing the director’s failure to provide committee members with documents and materials relating to the exhibition. In March, police started raiding homes believed to be connected to the controversy.

“The scope of allegations and measures of isolation of a director and curator internationally recognized for her artistic vision, her championing of art by women and art from diverse cultures, her broad knowledge and expertise, her ceaseless curiosity, the relevance of her museum programming and the quality of her widely influential exhibitions and many books, stupefy us,” reads the letter, which was made available in Flemish publication VRT NWS. Signatories include artists Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Luis Camnitzer, Bracha Ettinger, Cristina Iglesias, Nikolaus Gansterer, Mona Hatoum, Giuseppe Penone, Luc Tuymans, and Cecilia Vicuña; art historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh; Catherine David, deputy director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris; Bartomeu Mari, director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul; and Ann Gallagher, director for the collections of British art at Tate Modern in London.

The open letter ends: “We are appalled to see how one of the preeminent women curators of her generation internationally, a wholly professional and widely acclaimed museum director, has been made the plaything of unscrupulous media and of international speculation in the art of the Russian avantgarde, resulting in a severe media process destroying her work and reputation.”

“Through this letter, we affirm our full support for Catherine de Zegher as museum director and as curator. We challenge the local and national authorities concerned on the important issue of having, keeping, protecting and supporting visionary museum directors in their country, remaining independent in their judgement from the pressure media exert and the correlated hype and sensation, and above all from the growing influence of a certain art market linked with finance and power. We ask them to seriously pay attention to the role art and museums play in our cities, regions and in the society at large, the great principles they represent, and the necessity of having inspirational museum directors and curators to lead the way.”