The first exhibition of Russian art to make its début in Italy at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice is experiencing rigorous scrutiny by art historians. “Russias! Memory/Distortion/ Imagination,” on view through July 25, 2010 is a reinvention of the Guggenheim Museum’s blockbuster exhibition “Russia!” from 2005-2006. For the current show, the title was pluralized as a reflection of how the region has changed so much throughout the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st.
The show is comprised of 100 artworks acquired from only two private collections, surprisingly both collections were previously unknown. Scholars and experts in the field of the Russian avant-garde are puzzled by the art on view. The exhibition boasts numerous famous names including Chagall, Kandinsky, Malevich, Lissitzky, Tatlin, Goncharova, and Larionov, but the images are unlike any previously attributed to these artists.
The period of the Russian avant-garde is no stranger to forged work. In this case, experts in the Russian avant-garde field are particularly concerned with provenance and are suspicious of any work that was not exhibited or published during the lifetime of the artist said to have created it. However, organizers of the Venice show have claimed that these collections are being seen and published for the first time only now as an explanation for the confusion.
Among several works in question, one is a watercolor, Composition, attributed to Vasily Kandinsky and dated 1919. The work is not included in the catalogue raisonné published by the Paris-based Kandinsky Society, the internationally recognized authority on the artist. Another previously unknown work is Girl with Goat, attributed to Marc Chagall and dated 1911. The Paris-based Marc Chagall Committee has proclaimed that it is an “obvious fake” and has written to the exhibition organizers demanding that it be removed from the exhibition and that all reproductions of the image be recalled.
According to various specialists, some pieces seem to differ dramatically in style from that of officially documented works by the named artist from the same period. While other works in the show are uncannily similar to well-known paintings in established Russian museums. However, the curators explain that they were “quite convinced of the possible authenticity of the paintings by the way and the time in which they were obtained.” Also stressing that this is the reason they did not consult the respective foundations to verify authenticity of the work initially.