Postwar Art Fakes on the Rise

BloombergA Kabakov forgery that was offered for sale to art dealer Yelena Walker.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The market for Russian postwar art faces a growing number of forgeries as demand and prices increase, said artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, who have discovered fakes of their works for sale.

The Kabakovs, who work together on their art, spoke publicly for the first time about fakes and promised action to fight criminals.

In February, Ilya Kabakov became the most expensive Russian postwar artist when Phillips de Pury sold the 1982 painting "Beetle" for ?2.9 million ($5 million). Until June 2007, the Kabakovs' art did not exceed $1 million at auction.

"Criminals rely on buyers' naivete and their hopes of discovering an early or important work by a well-known and expensive artist for a fraction of the cost," said Ilya's wife, Emilia, who makes all comments on his behalf.

On Sept. 15, the Kabakovs opened their first exhibition in Moscow since emigrating from the Soviet Union to settle in the United States. The event, which ran until Sunday, has led to increased interest in Kabakov art by Russian collectors.

Shortly after the show's opening, seven fake paintings were offered to a Moscow collector, Kabakov said. The seller gave the works a bogus provenance and said they had been confiscated at the Soviet border in the 1980s.

On Oct. 4, Yelena Walker, a London dealer, approached Kabakov via e-mail to authenticate a painting that was offered to a Russian client. She answered by e-mail that it was a fake.

"It's on canvas, but Kabakov usually paints on board," Walker said. "Also, I felt it had too many images and details. Kabakov tries to get rid of images and replace them with words. He is like an accountant -- precise and scrupulous."

Emilia Kabakov said fakes of their work first appeared in the 1990s and were poor copies of original drawings that sold for about $2,000. The first forged Kabakov painting only appeared in 2005, offered for $200,000.

"We can account for every painting Ilya ever made," Kabakov said. "We just finished a complete catalog of Kabakov paintings with the Wiesbaden Museum and we know where every single painting was or is."

The Kabakovs have a "fake file" to track such works, and will place photos and information about known forgeries on their web site. If the situation worsens, they plan to turn to international law enforcement agencies.

"The situation with forgeries of postwar Russian art is worse than with classical Russian art," said Vladimir Roschin, the Moscow publisher of four volumes of "The Catalog of Fraudulent Art Works." "The main problem is lack of independent experts and research for postwar art."