US-Russia cultural cold war continues
Lacma is the latest museum to contend with Russia's ban on loans
By Helen Stoilas and Charlotte Burns. Web only
Published online: 26 May 2011
NEW YORK. The cultural cold war between Russian and US museums has drawn in another institution. Following Russia’s ban on loans to American institutions, which resulted in the cancellation or delay of major exhibitions, the US State and Justice Departments may now get involved. Recent court filings show that the US is undertaking to assure Russia that 38 works set to go on loan to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) this month, will be protected from seizure.
The assurance comes from Chabad, a Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. A US judge had previously ruled in the group’s favour, demanding that Russia return a huge cache of religious manuscripts seized during the Bolshevik Revolution and after the second world war.
Russia has taken an aggressive stance in response to the judge’s decision and refused to comply. A Foreign Ministry official stated that: “Unfortunately, the US judge made an unlawful decision, which cannot be enforced in Russia, as a matter of fact.” The country soon after announced a ban on loans to US museums, saying it feared works would be seized by Chabad to enforce the return of the manuscripts. Russia’s Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev has told the Russian press that the ban will last until the US gives a “100% guarantee” that works on loan to American museums will be protected.
The impasse has affected museums including the Houston Museum of Natural History, which had to delay indefinitely the opening of “Treasures from the Hermitage: Russia’s Crown Jewels”, originally set to open 20 May, and the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, where 37 icons from Moscow’s Andrei Rublev Museum were dramatically pulled at the last minute.
The Metropolitan is one of the few institutions to come out fighting following Russia’s refusal to loan several works including a Cézanne for its recent “Card Players” exhibition. Last month it confirmed that it will no longer loan works to a Dior show scheduled to take place at the State Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
The US government has been considering getting actively involved since April, as “certain issues” raised by the case “may be of interest to the United States”. The Department of Justice recently informed the court that the US will decide whether or not it will take part in the case by 15 June.
Last month Chabad assured the US State and Justice Departments that it will not attempt to seize any art or cultural objects or “disrupt in any manner the non-profit exchange of art and cultural objects between the Russian and American people”. This was made explicit in a further filing on 18 May, in which Chabad stated that the 38 objects in the Lacma show “Gifts of the Sultan” opening this month (5 June-5 September) will be immune from seizure. Among the works is a gold-and-silver embroidered silk tent from the Hermitage Museum that serves as a centrepiece of the installation. The show is set to tour to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in October, and potentially other venues next year.
A spokeswoman for Lacma said the exhibition will open as scheduled.
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