Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant Garde 3

Q: Besides Malevich, who else has appeared for the first time in the pages of your publication?

A: We have examples of graphic artists hitherto unknown. About 10 to 15 works by unknown artists. Anna Zherebtsova, for example. Who here knows about Anna Zherebtsova? She was a Russian artist who lived in Paris. We only had a short biography, which I had dug up somewhere, and a single painting – and we published them.

Q: Ideally, each work must undergo a thorough examination for inclusion in this publication. Nevertheless, it is technically difficult to do so. Would you say you are responsible for every illustration published here? I ask you this question not as an art expert, but rather as a publisher, to whom in fact can be sent all sorts of pictures.

A: Indeed I should bear responsibility, and I have to say that I do bear it, although I cannot guarantee all 100%  of the material. This is because I received several items from authors in Ukraine, Belarus, and regional museums. Some articles I haven’t even seen in real life – I’ve only come across reproductions. And I hope that everything sent to me from museums is authentic. If not, is it possible to trust anybody? After all, if a museum sends you a slide, it means there is a guarantee, that is you can go to the museum and see the original. Rakitin and I regularly held meetings to decide which items to include and which not. And when our opinions coincided, which happened most of the time, we would agree to publish. If we had arguments, we wouldn’t.

Q: There are quite a lot of stories about suspicious works from the avant-garde. Is this is a real opportunity in the fight against counterfeiting?

A: To be honest, I don’t see any opportunity, and there are lots and lots of such stories. The most prominent event – Goncharova’s story, when in 2010 and 2011, there came out two books. The first was a monumental monograph Goncharova by the English art-historian Anthony Parton, a well-respected professor. I counted 70 suspicious works in it. I won’t say that these are counterfeits, but they are suspicious because until then they had not appeared anywhere. I can understand finding one or two pieces, as I did with Malevich, but 70? That’s suspicious. The following year, a catalog-raisonné of Goncharova came out in France – of all her works accomplished in Russia. There we counted 400 works which had suddenly appeared; nobody knew about these before and now there they were. How can one fight this? We conducted several interviews with the Tretyakov Gallery, discussed with journalists together with the famous collector [Pyotr] Aven. He collects Goncharova, and it was painful for him to see all this. The Tretyakovka got ready to write to the publisher that they had placed pictures from the Tretyakov along with suspicious works. This is the only way to fight, but to say for sure that these works were fakes, we can’t do that, we haven’t seen them. To do this, you need to examine each picture, conduct chemical tests, X-ray analyses. Who is going to do this? And will they be given the works to examine? No, of course, never.

Q: In your view, how do auction houses function as filters?

A: To a very small extent. Auction houses always state that they are not responsible for the work. This is their main principle. Of course, when a Goncharova is under the hammer, they take the opinion of experts, but there are also different experts. If the expertise is provided by the one who produced the catalogue, then the Goncharova would always be in order. But 400 works! This catalogue achieved the absurd. Goncharova has a Futuristic painting from 1913 – Cyclist – in which a cyclist pedals along a street. In a Futuristic manner, she depicted many legs, conveying in this way a sense of motion. All this is against a background of shops with signs Hats, Silk, and so on. This is very characteristic of her, and she had just one such work. In the catalogue-raisonné, there appears a cyclist who rides in the opposite direction, also against a background of shops, then a motorcyclist who travels first in one direction, then in the other, and then some other fellow on a scooter. Also against a backdrop of shops. And all these are Goncharova, you understand? Surprisingly, the catalogue, which should contain information about the origin of the works, exhibitions, previous owners, contains no such thing. It says ‘private collection’, and that’s it. But as far as I know, these were stopped, the works don’t appear at auctions, because there was a scandal, and a scandal always appears to work as a filter.

Cyclist, by Natalia Goncharova. (1913).

[Translated loosely from Tatyana Yershova, «Мы вытащили имена, о которых все забыли»: Как искусство русского авангарда собрали в энциклопедию. Lenta.ru, Nov 28, 2013.]

Further reading:

  1. Sylvia Hochfield, “Protecting Goncharova’s Legacy“, ARTNews, January 7, 2011.
  2. Dr. Anthony Parton’s Response to the Tretiakov Gallery, June 2011.
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