While the recent discovery of an estimated $1.4 billion in art works originally thought to have been looted by Nazis has set the art world spinning, St Petersburg has finally reached a resolution in its own legal drama over provenance. As we reported earlier this summer, a group of Leningrad’s New Artists, led by Evgeny Kozlov, took to the courts to recover a group of critical paintings, long declared lost when a traveling exhibition orchestrated by artist Sergey Bugaev Afrika never made it home. We wrote up the whole story here, but to sum it up, the works reemerged after 25 years, proudly displayed as “from the collection of Sergey Bugaev Afrika.”
This would seem to be an open-and-shut case. Artists came to an exhibition, saw their own historical works which they had been told were lost, and asked for them back. Afrika graciously conceded, simply stipulating that the artists buy them back. It was a bold, blatant maneuver and should have been a no-brainer. But in the courtroom, things took a turn when the defendants, artists Kozlov, Oleg Maslov, Inal Savchenko and Oleg Zaika – “tiny little jackals who want to attack the bigger, stronger animal” as Afrika publicly denounced them – were unable to provide the proof of ownership required for the court. After all, the signatures and signature styles were not enough to establish that the artists had not given the works to Afrika, but in the age of squats, who has time to draw up certificates of authenticity for something finger-painted on the back of a doorframe?
Today the court ruled in favor of the artists, ordering that all but 4 of the 25 paintings be returned (those four were Savchenko paintings established to belong to artist Vladislav Gusevich.) According to Art1, the court still has to issue its reasoning and set forth an agreement for handing the works over, but the trial has concluded. However, it’s important to remember these were just four artists whose work was included in the exhibition (or its expanded catalogue.) The ruling opens the doors for others – among them Oleg Kotelnikov, Andrey Khlobystin and the estate of Georgy Guryanov – to file suits as well. We’ll keep you posted (particularly as we’re interested to hear what Afrika has to say about these “tiny little jackals” now.)