The Russian Culture Ministry has ruled that museums can no longer authenticate works of art for dealers and commercial galleries.

Culture ministry responds to fakes certified by leading institutions

The decision will deprive museums of a lucrative business, while many art dealers and experts claim that it will throw the Russian art market into uncertainty and greater lawlessness.

The Ministry wants museums to stand outside the art market because commercial activities are a conflict of interest. The Tretyakov Gallery, the Russian Museum, and the Grabar Art Conservation Centre in Moscow have all been major players in the market for authenticity evaluations.

“If a museum expert is issuing authenticity certificates on museum-headed paper, then that means the museum bears all responsibility for that evaluation,’’ says Mikhail Shvydkoi, director of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema. “That we are forbidding museums to make authentications does not mean we are forbidding experts from doing such things. Specialists are free to make their own independent evaluations.’’

Some museum curators and dealers have reacted angrily to the decision. Around 30 leading art experts, members of the National Organisation of Art Experts, sent a letter to the culture ministry asking them to rescind the decision. It stated: “If someone had the goal of destroying the practice of art evaluations in Russia in order to further the interests of criminal groups on the art market, then there wouldn’t be a simpler and more effective way to do that than by forbidding museums from making such evaluations.”

“I think the ministry’s ban is bad for the market,’’ says Mikhail Suslov, vice-president of the St Petersburg Antique Association. “This is so typical of our country. First, they forbid or destroy what currently exists, and only later do they think about the consequences.’’

The calls for reform started last year when it emerged that both the Tretyakov Gallery and Grabar Art Conservation Centre had authenticated works that were later found to be fakes.

In May 2004, Sotheby’s withdrew a painting from a London auction at the eleventh hour after it emerged the work was a fake Shishkin which had been authenticated by the Tretyakov Gallery. In October 2005, officials seized several fakes attributed to landscape artist, Alexander Kiselev (1838-1911), that had certificates from the Grabar Art Conservation Centre.

o For a report on the release from prison without charge of dealers accused of selling fakes, see p54.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Museums banned from authenticating art'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 175 December 2006