Sept. 22–Dec. 18, 2023
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
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.