Is an Avant Garde Art Forgery Industry Supported by the Russian Government?
No, I am not one of those conspiracy driven minds who communicate with little green men sent from another galaxy or seriously consider hypothesis that Jewish or any other elders form the world’s government which pulls the strings of formally elected administrations. I only believe in what I experience or see and facts from reliable sources trusted by educated and intelligent people around me. One of these facts is that former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev bestowed the highest government award to expert on never existed, made-up painters and falsificator of the Russian history. Revising history is taking place in the proportions unknown even in Communist times. Even verses of famous poet were edited to insert the name of artist.
Some of my friends are telling that in Russia wind does not dare to move a grain of sand moves without Vladimir Putin’s permission. I don’t believe it since I know that country as unruly and chaotic beyond God’s capacity to control, not mentioning mortal human as Putin. But he definitely does control a lot and it is hard to imagine that he is totally unaware about processes in Art business. Anyway, it is impossible to know what kind of information does he get, and I am not claiming that Putin personally involved in any way in avant garde forgery industry, but some of the high level government bureaucrats are as we say it in Russian in the theme.
Besides the fact that some of the activities required for such a scale of manipulations such as for example organization of exhibitions and conferences requires in Russia at least some involvement of the state, such exorbitant (even for modern Russia) amounts of money just could not move in post-Soviet state unmentioned. It is a good tradition to share your huge profits with responsible representatives of the state to have freedom of actions and protection.
The scale of avant garde forgery and history revisions it required is so substantial that it is hard not to mention it even for the outsiders having native speaker proficiency in Russian and using this language skills from time to time to follow events in Russia. In order to enable avant garde the tyrant who proclaimed the policy of ruthless red terror and war on virtually all kind of art other than representing his ideas of class struggle, Vladimir Lenin was portrayed as almost a patron of avant garde giving artists like Malevich positions in regional administration as if there was no murder of romantic a-political pet Nikolay Gumilev whose only crime was not presenting the ideas of victorious proletariat in his verses, as well as hundred thousand other innocent lives of clergy, scientists, and other “bourgeois elements”. This falsification of history in order to make money on art forgery is like spitting on the graves of all these people.
Truth is that the whole idea of so-called Russian avant garde is an invention of the group of art dealers which was implemented with such blatant cynicism that details of discussions about prices, biographies etc are still available online for general public. Scammers make very little effort to hide calling their fantasies “findings”, but it is pretty much clear for the outsider what are they talking about, which is proved by joining of the new members who immediately get it. Scammers share that behind them is Potanin’s money and they basically fear nothing.
The idea of the revision of history and invention of new art movement initially was met with ambiguity in Russia. Experts of serious editions such as Inna Shubina from Business Petersburg were writing about at least 90% of fakes among these pictures.
No wonder! For anyone slightly familiar with Russian history it would be hard to believe in existence of such movement. From the very beginning bolsheviks saw art only as an element of propaganda, instrument of class struggle and therefore the only official art accepted was realism glorifying proletariat and working people in general which later was called socialist realism. Pretty much everything else was labeled as bourgeois art which was considered dangerous for the new developing culture of the new people who will start building communist society. No mercy for these enemies of the people, the enemies of socialism, the enemies of the working people! War to the death against the rich and their hangers-on, the bourgeois intellectuals; war on the rogues, the idlers and the rowdies! Initially some of the party leaders went as far as proclaiming for example classical music a bourgeois art because they didn’t see how does it glorify proletariat, but as a die-hard fan of Beethoven, Vladimir Ilyich personally rebuked them with his famous quote about appassionata I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! Considering total lack of privacy of people packed in tiny rooms (or even parts of the room divided by screen) of huge communal apartments after all property and estate was proclaimed to be state or communist party belonging, and desperate financial situation which caused Vladimir Ilyich to turn to working people with the request to save unused parts of paper for illiterate people to practice writing letters, it is hard to imagine how and where avant garde could exist.
Respected expert Inna Shubina was to careful in her modest estimate of over 90% of fakes. To be more exact, the figure should be very close to 100%. Art does not survive without freedom. Most of the artists like Kandinsky left Russia with the hope to forget its language. Several survivors like Malevich stayed in Soviet Russia and continued to work in styles other than socialist realism. For decades Russia virtually turned into one huge prison or Gulag which didn’t have place for avant garde fellowship. But after appearance of the new artistic movements was met with initial scepticism by experts like Shubina in 2008–2009 when they were carefully estimating rate of forgeries as over 90%, strange thing happens. Year after year their estimate of the rate of forgeries becomes more and more modest, and belief in Russian avant garde grows! I hope that falsification of history didn’t change the actual past!
[Or they did, as for example some native people of Australia believe? Among them anthropologists observed traditional tribalistic mindset based on belief that words and thoughts are real and materialist, so when we say that something happens it really does happen somewhere. It really reminds me the mindset of many people in Russia.]
This phenomena of steady growth of social trust in Russian avant garde along some other things I mentioned caused me to ask a question in title. Vladimir Putin with his obsession with the glory of the country and readiness to sacrifice for it his own and other people’s lives for the sake of Mother Russia it nothing but typical good guy of the Russian folklore. If Putin was a tsar, he definitely would be one of the most revered ones. After all he hardly killed a fraction of the number of people who became unintentional sacrifices of Peter the Great’s course on westernization of the country. Who the hell counts human lives and human needs facing the question of prestige of Mother Russia?!
Me too, even in post-communist 80’s I used to hear at school how small are we becoming with all our ideas and need when we think about the greatness of Mother Russia. Until finally after observing brutalities of unjust war, like hero of the famous joke of Stalin’s time I firmly decided not to have such relatives.
[Joke: teacher asks student : -Who is your mother? -Mother Russia! -Who is your father? -Comrade Stalin! -What is your biggest dream? -To become an orphan!]
After losing Cold War and with it all the Soviet republics, Mother Russia desperately needs the ways of compensating it, so avant garde suddenly became a national issue and almost every article on it stresses the fact of its impact on the world as predecessor of dadaism and other post-modernist movements. In this perspective I totally understand the silence of the country facing revisions of the history at the scale even communist would not be able to afford.
However, my former compatriots frustrate me less than western reaction. At the end of the days, Russian I am et nihil humani ad me alienum puto. Avant garde hoax revealed the vulnerability of art market when gang of Russian peasants dressed in art dealers can easily manipulate it as if it is a toy for kids under 7. All auctions including Sotheby’s and Christie’s have traded avant garde fakes, but not any one of them yet had balls to acknowledge that they were fooled by the experts who betrayed professional ethics for tribal loyalty to Putin and Mother Russia. Honesty is crucial quality of an art expert the absence of which can not be compensated by any knowledge and skills.
To my granny Marianna Grigorievna Weinstock, whose stories about early 20th century Russia gave me more wisdom and understanding of the time than six years in number one university in the country.
She was imprisoned in 1938 for only crime of being daughter of the teacher of Jewish tradition at a time when Stalin’s goal was uprooting all the ethnic cultures. She was afraid to tell about her time to my father, but when I grew up, knowing history was already not so dangerous, so she poured on me all her wisdom through which relieved the events of Russian revolution.