Ghent Museum Director Suspended After Experts Challenged the Credibility of a Russian Avant–Garde Loan Show

Catherine de Zegher was shocked to learn of the decision that museum bosses had "lost trust" in her leadership of the troubled Belgian museum.

Catherine de Zegher in 2013. Photo courtesy Valerij Ledenev via Flickr.

The director of Ghent’s Museum of Fine Arts (MSK), Catherine de Zegher, was suspended on Wednesday night, March 6, after an emergency meeting of the board of directors for the organization that manages the the city’s leading institutions. 

Annelies Storms, the city councillor responsible for culture, who also sits on the board of AGB Arts and Design, said in a statement that the board “lacks trust” in de Zegher and hopes her suspension will return “serenity” to the museum.

De Zegher, who has been the director of the fine arts museum since 2013, has been temporarily stripped of her position pending the results of an external audit into her role in the loan exhibition of the Toporovsky collection of Russian Avant–Garde works, which some experts argue is full of fakes. It will ask whether de Zegher, and the museum, followed the standard rules and customary reference practices regarding incoming loans in this case. In the meantime, de Zegher remains an employee of the city, but the museum’s chief curator Johan de Smet has taken over as acting director of the museum.

Zeghler was shocked to find out about her suspension from a journalist for the Belgian newspaper De Tijdresponding when told of her suspension, “Are you serious? I know nothing about it. That is unbelievable. I’m in shock. For real… . And how awful.” She added that next week an exhibition of work by the Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso is due to open. “I’ve been looking forward to that for 20 years,” she said.

The 24 works from the Toporovsky collection were on display in the museum for over three months before they were removed on January 29 following concerns raised in the media regarding their authenticity, including an open letter signed by ten experts questioning the works, which artnet News first reported, and an exposé in The Art Newspaper.

De Zegher met with the city’s cultural committee on March 5 to defend herself for not spotting the alleged forgeries. She said her 35 years of curatorial experience qualified her to recognize fakes, and that she had also consulted with two foreign experts, Noemi Smolik and Magdalena Dabrowski, on the authenticity of the collection. Smolike and Dabrowski however refuted this claim in the Flemish daily newspaper De Standaard on Wednesday, prompting the board to call the emergency meeting to discuss the director’s position.

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