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Ghent files complaint against museum director in case of Russian artworks

19:31 28/01/2019

The City of Ghent has filed a legal complaint against Catherine de Zegher, the director of the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, who has been suspended since early last year. The lawsuit also names the Dieleghem Foundation in Brussels, which loaned the artworks that started all the trouble.

In a case that has gripped Flanders’ art community – and beyond – 26 artworks that were part of a Russian avant-garde exhibition at the museum were confiscated on suspicion of forgery last March. International experts were in anonymous agreement that most – if not all – of the works were fakes.

The city suspended De Zegher (pictured), who has always maintained that she followed all the correct procedures for determining authenticity as well as all administrative procedures required. The owner of the works, Igor Toporovski of the Dieleghem Foundation, has always staunchly stood behind the authenticity of the works, which are attributed to such artists as Kazimir Malevich, Lyubov Popova and Natalia Goncharova.

De Zegher filed a complaint of wrongful suspension with the Council of State, and the documentation being analysed to defend the city’s position has now led to the city filing its own complaint. According to Ghent culture councillor Sami Souguir, the city’s legal department suspects back-dating and the forging of signatures in the documentation related to the exhibition.

The contract concerning the loan of the works carries a signature and date just two days before the exhibition opened in October of 2017. “There is evidence that this document was only prepared in January of 2018,” Souguir told De Standaard. “That would mean that it was back-dated. As it was presented to the city council’s culture commission, that would mean that the councillors were lied to.”

It also suggests that the artworks may not have been properly insured when they opened to the public, said Souguir. Another problem with the contract is that it was only signed by De Zegher and not additionally by a city council representative, as is normally the case.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual at the museum, known for its collection of works from the low countries from the middle ages to the 20th century. The museum just closed the successful exhibition The Ladies of the Baroque. Dr Cathérine Verleysen, previously the museum’s head of the collection and research department, is the acting general director.

Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/BELGA

Written by Flanders Today