A fine exhibition of “Russian avant-garde” painting entitled “The Big Change” is being shown at the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht from 12 March to 11 August 2013. It might be thought of as no more than yet another exhibition were if not for the fact that a great number of works are on display, and furthermore that the exhibition is being held in a city visited by major professional and amateur art lovers from all over the world every year during the month of March. Leading figures in the art world are drawn to Maastricht by the TEFAF – the internationally-famous art fair presenting the finest works to be found on the art market. As a good friend of mine commented to me, “it’s like walking around a great museum, except that everything here is for sale”.
“The Big Change” exhibition’s dates were calculated to coincide with this art fair, and a well-informed visitor such as myself would theoretically expect no great surprises, as the works came from Russian museum collections: the St. Petersburg Russian Museum, Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery and the Rostov Veliky Museum. For the first time the such a presentation includes a few of Tatlin’s paintings, which for particular reasons are kept in the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI). Having been familiar with these collections for a great many years, I looked forward to an enjoyable visit or at least a pleasurable routine inspection of the works.
But no. In the last of the exhibition rooms I suddenly found myself face to face with a pathetic imitation of Malewicz’s 1913 “Samovar”. One of his few Cubo-Futurist paintings. “Samovar” is among Malewicz’s most important works of that period and one of his most thoroughly documented works (in the spring of 1914 it was one of the artist’s three canvases exhibited at the “Salon des Indépendants” in Paris) and therefore one which holds an important place in the whole history of modern art. One could perhaps forgive the inaccuracy of the dates given in the information notice alongside the picture, which bothers only the specialist, but the visual shock of the pseudo-Malewicz painting hanging in Maastricht was enormous and a great deal more serious. I had already indicated the existence of this imitation eleven years ago, notably in one of the most abundantly detailed notes in my “Catalogue Raisonné” of this artist’s work (see Andrei Nakov, Kazimir Malewicz, Catalogue raisonné, Editions Adam Biro, Paris 2002, cat. F-377, note 4). I have to conclude that outside of the major Western museums this publication of mine is not widely known, and/or has been deliberately ignored, not only in Russia but also by the (Dutch?) authors of the exhibition catalogue and the curators of the Rostov Museum. (And what about their colleagues, who cannot have failed to see the whole exhibition?).
It is no service rendered to Malewicz that this ridiculous imitation (because it cannot even be regarded as a copy) should be exhibited under Kazimir Malevich’s name, and even more so in a city where it will be seen by numerous visitors whose knowledge of modern art is often lesser than it is of old masters, which are the main focus of the Maastricht art fair.
Some weeks ago I had the good fortune to see In the Accademia Gallery in Venice Titian’s “Martyrdom of St. Lawrence”, a major painting whose splendour had been once again revealed at the end of one of the most remarkable restorations carried out lately in Italy, country considered to be the greatest specialist in this discipline. It was one of the most extraordinary artistic experiences I have been lucky enough to have for quite a while.
After admiring Titian’s masterpiece at length, I wandered around Venice and found myself at the Jesuit church where the work came from. Suddenly, in place of the “Martyrdom of St. Lawrence” I saw what looked like a brownish waterfall: this was evidently a copy (a real copy this time) hung purposely there as such to stand in for the original during the long years while the latter was undergoing restoration. The comparison between this very averagely-untalented copy and the fresh memory of the magnificent masterpiece I had just seen was highly instructive and I shall never forget it.
The shock produced by the phony Malewicz’s “Samovar” was just as violent.