Art Collector Accuses Russian Museum Of Forgery

The museum, in St Petersburg
The museum, in St Petersburg
Vladislav Trifonov and Anna Pushkarskaya

SAINT PETERSBURG - A well-known art collector buys a painting from a long-time acquaintance, who is also a publisher of books about Russian art. He displays it in an art exhibition, and an art expert happens to see it and recognize it as a fake that she had see before and identified as a forgery The original, it turns out, is in the collection of the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg. What happened?

Andrei Vasilev was an experienced art collector, and he had bought several works from Leonid Shumakov, a publisher of books on Russian art. Vasilev asked Shumakov to let him know if any works of art of famous collections or works that had been published in catalogues before the Russian revolution came up for sale.

Sure enough, soon afterwards, the publisher sent him an e-mail with photographs of a number of works, including the scanned pages of “My Journal for Some,” a pre-revolution publication, with the Tsar’s imperial stamp visible. The journal’s pages had a reproduction of “In The Restaurant” by Boris Grigoriev, signed in 1913. Vasilev was interested.

According to what Shumakov said, the painting came from an old Leningrad collection, only the second-ever owners of the painting. Shumakov clarified that the authenticity of the painting was not in any way doubted by experts, citing one expert in particular, Julia Solonovich from the Russian Museum. After some negotiations Vasilev purchased the painting for $250,000. The transaction took place on July 10, 2009 in Vasilev’s apartment, and was paid for in cash.

Different from the catalogue

When Vasilev got the painting, he noticed that there were some differences between the one in his hands and the one he had seen in the catalogue, but he attributed those differences to the catalogue’s color retoucher. After restoring a small part of the painting, it was exhibited in a show dedicated to artists who, like Grigoriev, had fled Russia right after the establishment of the Soviet Union.

Coincidentally, Julia Ribakova, a former expert for an art restoration center, saw the painting and recognized it as a forgery that she had already been asked to give an expert opinion on. She had come to the conclusion that the painting in question was a fake because it was signed with a material that was not used until well after the artist’s death. The Russian Museum had also determined that the painting was a fake. Ribakova informed Vasilev that his painting was a forgery.

Vasilev immediately demanded that the seller return his money. But Shumakov refused, saying he was only a middleman, and that the painting had really belonged to Elena Basner, a long-time employee of the Russian Museum. But Basner told Vasilev that the painting had never belonged to her, but instead to Mikhail Aronson, from Tallinn, Estonia. Incidentally, Aronson has a criminal history with convictions for theft, violent robbery and drug dealing. Vasilev filed a lawsuit, which is still ongoing, against Shumakov.

The Russian Museum

Already in possession of his forgery, Vasilev discovered that the original painting “In The Restaurant,” is actually in the Russian Museum’s collection. It entered the museum’s collection in the 1980s, as part of a larger collection that had belonged to a professor. Elena Basner had handled the description and registry of the works in the professor’s collection, including “In The Restaurant.”

According to Vasilev, such a high quality copy of the painting could have been done in the Museum’s storage area with the help of photographs taken in the Museum itself. That is why he has already contacted the Minister of Culture asking that the Russian Museum’s security be verified. The Ministry of Culture told Kommersant that they planned a security test in the near future

The Russian Museum denies the art collector’s accusations. One of the managers of the security department at the Museum, Grigori Goldovskii, told Kommersant that the scheme the Museum is suspected of is “completely and absolutely impossible, based on the system of security, lending and copying of works in the museum.”

According to Goldovskii, the work in question is 50 centimeters by 70 centimeters, and it would have taken more than one day to complete a copy of the painting - right under the noses of Museum staff. And the copy would have been impossible to take out of the Museum, since all the exits are guarded by police.

Concerning Elena Basner, who worked at the Museum until 2003, Goldovskii says “I could only imagine that she could cook up such a scheme if I were in a complete delirium.” Basner says that she is happy that the investigation will be starting shortly, because she is also interested in having the police find out what happened. “I know I am innocent,” she said, affirming that she got the painting from Mikhail Aronson.

She also maintained that she had no knowledge of Aronson’s criminal past. Shumakov, from whom Vasilev bought the painting, told Kommersant that he is confident in the painting’s authenticity. “In any case, no one has proven the contrary yet,” he said. 

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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