Wednesday 26 January 2011

Art's Cold War Continues

Although now overshadowed by more recent news from the east, it was announced last week that Russia will maintain its ban on sending any new art exhibitions to the US. The ban was imposed in response the decision of the US district court for the DC Circuit in the case of Chabad-Lubavitch v Russia.

The case relates to an archive of 12,000 books and manuscripts and 50,000 other documents collected by the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, which was seized by the Nazis, and subsequently claimed by Soviet during World War II. After apparently exhausting all diplomatic avenues, in December 2008, the Brooklyn-based Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement filed suit against Russia claiming ownership of the archive. In a ruling in August 2010, the US court confirmed that the Russian government must return the archive to Chabad-Lubavitch. However, Russia did not accept the judgment as valid,
insisting that the collection is part of its state archive, and, in any case, claiming that the US district court does not have jurisdiction over the matter. Therefore, following the court's judgment, Russia declared that it would not send any art exhibitions to the US until the dispute over was satisfactorily resolved.

On 20 January 2011, Russia's Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev confirmed that the ban remains in place, stating:
"We stopped sending exhibitions to the United States in August (because) one American organisation made a completely illegitimate claim on this collection of books."
It seems that the main reason for the ban is that Moscow fears the US authorities will seize any Russian art coming into the country and hold it as security in exchange for return of the archive.

This dispute is damaging to all sides of the argument, but particularly to both the US and the Russia art markets. Since Russia refuses to accept the jurisdiction of the US court, it appears it is up to the diplomats to find a solution. Not really a promising state of affairs. After all it took them 40+ years to resolve the actual cold war.

Some Russian art currently showing at The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Not in the US.

March 1895, from the exhibition Isaak Levitan. To the 150th anniversary.

Source: AFP, 20 January 2011

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