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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Controversy Follows Romanov Jewels West

The curse of the Romanovs now has fallen on California.


After much haggling and many headaches, the exhibit "Jewels of the Romanovs: Treasures of the Russian Imperial Court'' will open at the San Diego Museum of Art on Saturday. But only after the museum's director, Steven Brezzo, described the exhibit as "the most complicated, demanding, sometimes bewildering and frequently frustrating project'' he's worked on in the past two decades, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.


"The nitty-gritty involved was just amazing," said Bob Trettin, a spokesman for the California museum.


The traveling display of gemstones has been the source of international tension since it first came to Washington in January.


After a 10-week run at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the collection was caught in a prolonged standoff. Russian Embassy cars even blockaded a United Van Lines truck parked near the White House with a cargo of priceless art objects. Then the van was taken to the Russian Embassy compound.


The whole affair boiled down to a financial feud between two groups -- the Russian organizing committee and the Washington-based American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation.


Eventually the battling factions signed a truce, the van was freed and the exhibition was dispatched to Houston's Museum of Fine Arts. There the jewels were even more wildly popular than they had been in Washington.


But the two organizing groups continued to squabble over money and over whether the exhibit would continue to San Diego and Memphis, where it is scheduled to open in November.


Texas newspapers reported that the Houston museum ran a full-page ad warning that the jewels soon would be taken back to Russia. At another point, a prominent Texas clan filed suit against the Russians. The Magness family claimed the Russian government seized more than $160 million in property in the wake of the 1917 revolution. But a Houston judge refused to issue a restraining order and the jewels were shipped to California.


In Houston, James Symington and other representatives of the U.S. foundation sat down with Mikhail Gusman, head of the Russian organizing committee, Yevgeny Sidorov, Russia's culture minister, and Timothy Dickinson, a lawyer who represents the Russians.


The two sides agreed to split the gross receipts of the San Diego and Memphis shows, with the Russians getting 65 percent of the money and the Americans 35 percent. The gross of the four-city tour is expected to reach nearly $2 million, Symington said. The two groups also will take a percentage of merchandise sales. And they worked out the details of who pays various expenses.


The contract with the San Diego museum, Trettin said, is more than 30 pages long. But for all the uncertainty, he said, "We have never sold as many advance tickets as we have for this exhibit -- more than 60,000.''


The jewels were flown from Texas to California. The display cases, costumes and other items were trucked to San Diego.