Belgian Police Raid People’s Homes as an Investigation Into Russian Avant-Garde Forgeries Widens

Police are expanding their search after four art dealers filed a civil complaint.

A known painting by Yury Annenkov (left) and a work on view at the contested exhibition in Ghent . Coutesy of Dieleghem Foundation (Synthetic landscape)
A known painting by Yury Annenkov (left) and a work on view at the contested exhibition in Ghent. Courtesy of Dieleghem Foundation (Synthetic landscape).

The investigation into a possible rash of forged avant-garde Russian artworks is intensifying in Belgium, where a civil complaint has led police to raid homes across the country.

In January, the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Ghent shut down an exhibition of alleged fakes after some art experts raised concerns about the authenticity of the works on view. Now, a group of four art dealers in New York and London and the descendant of one of the artists whose work was purportedly included have joined forces to file a civil complaint. “They are suffering damage now that the art market, of which they are a part, and the museum world, with whom they work closely, are being damaged,” their lawyer, Geert Lenssens, told the Guardian.

In response to the complaint, the Ghent public prosecutor’s office and federal police carried out a number of searches in East Flanders. The targets of the raids have not been named, but experts believe that sales of counterfeit Russian artwork have become widespread, with two German men sentenced last week for having sold Russian fakes.

Foreground: Objects including a box and distaff, allegedly decorated by Kazimir Malevich. Background, from left: paintings by Pavel Filonov, Yury Annenkov, Aleksandra Ekster, and Kazimir Malevich. Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Art in Ghent.

Foreground: Objects including a box and distaff, allegedly decorated by Kazimir Malevich. Background, from left: paintings by Pavel Filonov, Yury Annenkov, Aleksandra Ekster, and Kazimir Malevich. Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.

Investigators are also continuing to look into the collection of Igor and Olga Toporovsky, who loaned works from their Dieleghem Foundation to the Ghent exhibition. Earlier this month, as part of the fallout from the disgraced exhibition, Catherine de Zegher was suspended from her post as director of the Ghent museum, with the board citing a “loss of trust” in her leadership. (De Zegher’s lawyer, Eline Tritsmans, did not respond to artnet News’s request for comment.)

The exhibition, “Russian Modernism 1910–30,” was said to feature the work of Wassily KandinskyKazimir MalevichAlexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin, and others.

James Butterwick, Richard Nagy, Ivor Braka, Natalia Murray, and Alex Lachmann were among the dealers who called the works’ authenticity into question in an open letter. Butterwick declined to comment to artnet News about whether he is involved in the current civil suit.


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