THE ART NEWSPAPER , London, MAY issue, 2009
« Russia stories » by John Varoli
On March 19 French police confiscated an entire exhibition of artworks attributed to Russian avant-garde artist, Alexandra Exter. Police acted on a complaint made by leading avant-garde expert, Andrei Nakov, that the exhibition of 180 Exter artworks at the Chateau Museum in Tours was entirely comprised of fakes. Police even seized the catalogues. Titled « Alexandra Exter and Her Russian Friends, » the exhibition opened Jan. 30 and was billed by organizers as « the largest Exter show ever, » and was set to close on March 22.
« I went to the exhibition the day after it opened, and I was disgusted and deeply shocked by what I saw, » said Nakov in a telephone interview, adding that only one of the 180 is genuine. « These fakes were so poorly done that I’m surprised that they dare show them. »
Nakov is president of the Paris-based Alexandra Exter Association, and is author of the first book on the artist, published in 1972. He said he owns the artist’s archives which he received from her close friend, Simon Lissim. According to Artinvestment.ru, a Russian art market research web site, Exter is 9th in a ranking of the most lucrative Russian artists since 2001.
Nakov said the Exter archive includes numerous personal documents, sketch-books, collage books, notebooks, personal and artistic correspondence, the artist’s palette, and lists of artworks compiled by the artist and Lissim.
« Some people are criticizing me saying I’m upsetting the art market, but if I had done nothing then Exter would be dead as an artist, » said Nakov, who blogs at www.andrei-nakov.org.
Nakov, who helped police to identify and inventory the alleged frauds, said he went to the authorities soon after the opening. He pointed out discrepancies in signatures, and problems with provenance, and based his argument on testimony from two official handwriting experts who had studied the signatures for three weeks.
The Exter exhibition was on two floors, while a third floor showed 80 artworks by other Russian leading avant-garde artists, such as Malevich, and Yavlensky. Nakov said only one of these was genuine. The artworks come from 20 private collections, and according French media about 130 works are the property of Jean Chauvelin, the show’s organizer.
Chauvelin declined to comment, but according to his web site, www.jean-chauvelin-expert-en-art.com, he is an art expert and consultant. The site claims Chauvelin has four decades experience working with the Russian avant-garde, and « has dedicated his life to the work of Exter. » He published the 2003 book, « Alexandra Exter, » (Max Milo Editions).
Nakov, however, claims that two-thirds of the artworks in that book are fake. Nakov said he met Chauvelin in the late 1960s and was initially well-disposed toward him because his gallery showed Dada and Constructivist works, « at a time when almost no one was interested in these. »
But by the mid 1970s Nakov said he broke off contact with Chauvelin over authenticity issues, and « haven’t had contact with him since. »
« I never thought he’d do such a gigantic exhibition as with this recent ‘ Exter ‘ exhibition, » said Nakov. « How can someone do this ? It is a total disregard of an artist’s life work. »
©2009 The Art Newspaper
70 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RL