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Mu­se­um Lud­wig Puts Its Fabulous Fakes on Show

Kasimir Malewitsch, Suprematism No. 38, 1916, oil on canvas, 102,5 x 67 cm, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, photo by Rheinisches Bildarchiv, Cologne

Af­ter a long pe­ri­od in which it was ta­boo, an in­creas­ing num­ber of mu­se­ums are be­com­ing more trans­par­ent about how they deal with inau­then­tic works and exchang­ing knowl­edge. With a stu­dio ex­hi­bi­tion on the Rus­sian avant-garde, the Mu­se­um Lud­wig is pre­sent­ing re­search on the au­then­tic­i­ty of works in its col­lec­tion. Thanks to Peter and Irene Lud­wig, in ad­di­tion to Pop Art and Pi­cas­so, the Rus­sian avant-garde is a core fo­cus of the mu­se­um’s col­lec­tion, with more than 600 works from the pe­ri­od be­tween 1905 and 1930, in­clud­ing some 100 paint­ings.

For vari­ous rea­sons, works of ques­tion­able au­thor­ship have cont­in­u­al­ly found their way in­to pri­vate and in­sti­tu­tio­n­al col­lec­tions. Works by Rus­sian avant-garde artists were coun­ter­feit­ed par­tic­u­lar­ly of­ten (due to their de­layed re­cep­tion af­ter Stalin­ism, for in­s­tance). Even re­cent­ly, paint­ings from this era that have turned out to be inau­then­tic have been pre­sent­ed in mu­se­ums. The Mu­se­um Lud­wig is al­so af­fect­ed and is cur­rent­ly sys­te­m­at­i­cal­ly in­vesti­gat­ing its col­lec­tion of paint­ings with the help of in­ter­na­tio­n­al scho­lars. This re­search rep­re­sents an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the in­ter­na­tio­n­al dis­course on the Rus­sian avant-garde. One goal is to iden­ti­fy and distin­guish in­cor­rect at­tri­bu­tions in the mu­se­um’s col­lec­tion.

The ex­hi­bi­tion pre­sents the meth­ods and find­ings. With twen­ty-sev­en works by, or former­ly at­tribut­ed to Ljubow Popowa, Kli­ment Red­ko, Niko­lai Suetin, Ni­na Ko­gan, El Lis­sitzky, and other artists, it pre­sents art-his­tor­i­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal meth­ods for mak­ing artis­tic au­thor­ship and ques­tion­able at­tri­bu­tions rec­og­niz­able. In ad­di­tion to works from the mu­se­um’s own hold­ings, Mo­mus in Thes­sa­loni­ki – home to the Col­lec­tion of Ge­orge Cos­takis – as well as Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Ma­drid kind­ly pro­vide loans of orig­i­nal works that served as tem­plates for our not-au­then­tic pic­tures.

Based on no­tice­able ex­am­ples, vis­i­tors can look be­hind the scenes and gain an un­der­s­tand­ing of prove­nance re­search and vari­ous in­vestiga­tive tech­niques such as in­frared and X-ray im­ages, fab­ric tests, and ma­te­rial anal­y­s­es. Cer­tain pig­ments, such as ti­ta­ni­um white, serve as mark­ers that al­low the dat­ing of a paint­ing to be ver­i­fied. The ex­hi­bi­tion pre­sents dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives by re­search­ers in res­to­ra­tion, art tech­nol­o­gy, and art his­to­ry on the ques­tion of the au­then­tic­i­ty of an art­work.

Of the 100 paint­ings in the Rus­sian avant-garde col­lec­tion at the Mu­se­um Lud­wig, half have un­der­gone an art-his­tor­i­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion, most by Dr. Maria Kokko­ri, art his­to­rian and art tech­nol­o­gist at the Art In­sti­tute of Chica­go and a spe­cial­ist in the Rus­sian avant-garde, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the paint­ing re­s­tor­er at the Mu­se­um Lud­wig, Pe­tra Mandt. Four­teen paint­ings by Mikhail Lari­onov and Na­talia Goncharo­va were se­lect­ed for a fun­da­men­tal ex­am­i­na­tion of the Rus­sian Avant-Garde Art Pro­ject, which was con­duct­ed by Dr. Jilleen Na­dol­ny from Art Anal­y­sis & Re­search In­sti­tute in Lon­don.

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