Art in Doubt: A Critical Examination of the Thomas P. Whitney Collection, Part 1

Sept. 22, 2023–Mar. 1, 2024

Gallery, Amherst Center for Russian Culture

Free and open to the public, Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm.
  • Curated by Maria Timina,  Curator of Russian and European Art, Mead Museum
  • The first curator's talk will be on Tuesday, October 3rd at 3pm. 
  • Additional curator's talks and related events to be announced.

“I had my own experiences with problems of authenticity. I have been offered fakes. At one point the problem had me bothered enough so that I almost decided to abandon purchasing anything at all.”

—Thomas P. Whitney ‘37


Image

Anna Kagan, formerly attributed to. Suprematist Composition, 20th century. Gouache on canvas. Mead Art Museum. Gift of Thomas P. Whitney (Class of 1937)


This is an exhibition about suspected fakes and possible forgeries, about works that cause us to doubt history, experts, and art itself. With a focus on the Thomas P. Whitney Collection housed at the Mead Art Museum, “Art in Doubt” marks the first scholarly presentation of dubious works of the Russian and Soviet avant-garde in the United States. The first part of the two-part exhibition—with the second iteration opening in Spring 2024—features exclusively non-objective compositions that were highly sought-after by collectors and were also believed to be more easily forged.

In the 1960s,  Westerners discovered the experimental modern art produced in the Russian Empire and the early Soviet Union, and it became popular among art enthusiasts and professionals of all kinds. This resulted in an unprecedented demand for what was named Russian avant-garde art. Banned in the Soviet Union, these works were extremely hard to find in the West. This lack of available artworks on the market, combined with the lack of knowledge and experts in the field, created ideal conditions for forgers. In the most extreme cases, entire biographies and legacies have been fabricated, as happened to Anna Kagan, an artist also featured in the exhibition.

Unlike numerous other collectors who were unaware of the scale of the problem, Thomas P. Whitney ‘37 (1917–2007) strove to avoid dubious works as much as possible. The ubiquity of fakes concerned him so much that he considered giving up his passion for collecting entirely. Fortunately, Whitney chose to continue, and he assembled one of the most important private collections of its kind in the West.

The collection comprises over six hundred artworks, largely acquired before the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way to an open art market and a true epidemic of fakes. This timing, paired with Whitney’s careful approach to collecting, has resulted in surprisingly few spurious artworks in his collection.

But, as Whitney knew, some works would still slip through. The current exhibition examines those objects, while displaying them alongside archival documents: correspondence, invoices, and statements made by a number of experts. Put together, they lift the veil on how museum curators approach the task of authenticating the art in their care.


Fragments of Utopia: Photographs from the VKhUTEMAS Workshops

Amherst Center for Russian Culture

The photographs featured in the exhibition show models created by the students of the VKhUTEMAS in response to various exercises—largely on the topics of volume and space—assigned by their professors, as well as projects of their own creation, from film sets to architectural projects. These materials are drawn from the archive of Selim Khan-Magomedov (1928-2011)—among the most prominent scholars of Soviet avant-garde art and architecture—who mainly acquired them from the VKhUTEMAS alumni Nikolai Travin, Mikhail Korzhev, and Ivan Lamtsov.

Kharkiv—Requiem: Destruction of Cultural Sites

Amherst Center for Russian Culture

In the wake of ongoing Russian bombardments of non-military targets in Ukraine, the art historian Konstantin Akinsha, the curator of Sviatoslav Ostrous’s Kharkiv-Requiem, asked: Would “urbicide,” that is, the murder of a city and its people, become the tactic of choice in the “methodical destruction” of Ukrainian cities and the cultural heritage and people who inhabit them? We focus on Kharkiv to exhibit Ostrous’s remarkable series of photographs—but we do so while thinking of the whole of Ukraine in the defense of its freedom.

The Wayland Rudd Collection

Amherst Center for Russian Culture

“The Wayland Rudd Collection,” a conceptual project by the artist Yevgeniy Fiks, assembles an archive of visual works testifying to the Soviet Union's engagement with race relations in the United States and decolonization efforts in Africa. Rudd, the Collection's namesake, left America for the Soviet Union in the 1930s to pursue his ambitions of becoming a stage actor whose career would be unhindered by racial discrimination in America.

One Scholar, One Work: Masterpieces from the Thomas P. Whitney Collection of Russian Art

Amherst Center for Russian Culture

This exhibition is about the art of close looking. Over the next four months, we will exhibit one artwork — indeed, one masterpiece — from the Whitney Collection of Russian Art. We invite you to come to contemplate the artwork in the Gallery of the Amherst Center for Russian Culture (ARCR) on the second floor of Webster Hall. Each month, we will be joined by a renowned art historian to discuss the work with us.