Tuesday , May 28 2024
A large cache of unauthenticated Russian Avant-Garde art triggers a hunt for their artists and origins.

Book Review: ‘From Russia With Doubt: The Quest to Authenticate 181 Would-Be Masterpieces of the Russian Avant-Garde ‘ by Adam Lerner

The intriguing adventure into Russian Avant-Garde art of the early 20th Century  that is From Russia With Doubt began on eBay. Brothers Roger and Ron weren’t looking for treasure; the aim was to buy some interesting pieces for under $1000 each which could be used to decorate Roger’s house. But as they discovered more and more pieces, the men recruited their friend Brad and a few more friends to help amass a collection of 181 exquisite paintings. Then they began to wonder: could these be lost masterpieces? Where did such a mass of previously unknown paintings come from? The work was very similar to that of well-known Russian artists of the period between 1915-1925.

russiaThus began their foray into the world of art authentication. If the paintings were real they were worth millions of dollars. If they could not be authenticated, they were not. But authenticating unsigned paintings with shady origins was not an easy task.

This book is fascinating for the story of the paintings as well the Russian Avant-Garde movement that faltered and died under Stalin’s oppressive rule, and for the opportunity to study the full-color plates of many of the paintings. There is also an index with small photos of all the paintings.

The book also triggers meditation on the nature and value of art itself. These paintings are often labeled as probable “fakes” but there is no evidence that they were intended to fool anyone.

They are unsigned, as much art of the time was, since the political climate was not conducive to artists seeking to identify themselves. They may have been student work or something else but they are real paintings and they are beautiful, intriguing, and worthy of note. None are copies of known original works. Do they not deserve notice and have great value on their own?

And yet the real value of a painting in the art world today depends largely on who painted it, and if it does not  have an indisputable provenance (history of who painted it and where it came from), it will not be considered worth much money or usually be displayed in museums.

These paintings were displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver in 2010 by the book’s author, Mr. Lerner. This reflected his own belief in the value of the paintings even though they were unauthenticated. From Russia With Doubt allows the reader to also to weigh the evidence and decide what these paintings might be and learn a great deal about this lesser known style of art in the meantime.

The book can be read very quickly, but the illustrations can be enjoyed for a long time to come. It is an excellent book for any lover of modern art.



About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Bluesand Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.