Fakes and Other Follies: Phony Russian Art Unveiled, Standard Fires Volley

By Grenier, Cynthia | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

Fakes and Other Follies: Phony Russian Art Unveiled, Standard Fires Volley


Grenier, Cynthia, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Talk about hot stories.

The February ARTnews is running a shocker: the first installment of a major investigative report about the discovery and revelation of massive fakery in the field of Russian avant-garde art. The amount of money involved runs to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Correspondents Konstanin Akinsha and Grigori Kozlov and Editor-at-Large Sylvia Hochfield interviewed art historians, collectors and heirs of avant-garde artists in the United States, Germany, Russia, England, France and Ukraine. They've found at least 6,000 to 8,000 artworks of the Russian avant-garde to be fakes.

The Cold War created ideal conditions for art forgers on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The great Russian artists of the 1920s were among the creators of modern art, but almost none of their work could leave the Soviet Union, although a number of the artists themselves went into exile abroad, to Paris and New York. Those who stayed behind soon saw their work fall into disfavor as social realism became the Stalinist mode of the day.

The fakery began on a big scale in the 1970s, the Brezhnev era. The Western buyer would be told the history of an artwork couldn't be known because it had been smuggled out of the Soviet Union. Stories abounded of art from the 1920s turning up in people's attics or cellars in St. Petersburg or Moscow.

Today auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie have a trace of egg on their face, having bought and sold works now being established as pure fakes. Let's wait for the first novel using this as a theme!

The Weekly Standard this week mocked George with a send-up of Editor-in-Chief John Kennedy's letter firing editor Eric Etheridge. George's third issue, now appearing on newsstands everywhere, has basketball's bad boy Charles Barkley on the cover, wig and 18th-century jacket over his shorts and bare legs.

He rates an interview with JFK Jr. himself, and comes across actually sounding kind of interesting: highly conservative and looking to get into state - Alabama - politics himself. His defense of being a Republican to Democrat Kennedy is pretty good stuff. The issue also features a pretty snippy, mean-spirited profile of hotshot journalist Ruth Shalit by a fellow female journalist who sounds frankly green with envy.

In terms of business, the issue reportedly had 50 new advertisers; the first two issues with 175 ad pages in each set records for a new publication.

George is scheduled to go monthly come August. Readership falls into an average age of 36, median household income of $65,000, with 91 percent college-educated, and 60 percent women. Mr. Kennedy has gone on record saying his generation views politics "as another aspect of cultural life, not all that different from sports and music and art." Heaven help us if he's right.

Two national magazines have just bit the dust, which is always sad to see: Omni, a handsome monthly of science fact and fiction, and Longevity, a health magazine. Bob Guccione closed both down last week, talking of postal-rate increases of 34 percent and paper-cost increases of 60 percent as determining factors. …

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Fakes and Other Follies: Phony Russian Art Unveiled, Standard Fires Volley
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