The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 United States Thursday, April 26, 2018

Decades-Long Dispute Over Ownership of Holy Text Archive Leads Russia To Nix Art Loans
A monogrammed walking stick from St. Petersburg, Russia, circa 1780 is shown. The item is one example of numerous works of art that the Russian government has refused to loan to American museums; fearing that they could be seized after a federal court sided with a Jewish organization, which has been campaigning to reclaim its holy texts from the former Soviet Union. AP Photo/Museum of Russian Icons.

By: Christian Salazar,Associated Press
Randy Herschaft,Associated Press

NEW YORK, NY (AP).- A decades-long dispute between Russia and an Orthodox Jewish group over ownership of holy texts collected for centuries by influential rabbis and seized by the Soviet Union has jolted the U.S. art world, threatening an end to major cultural loans between the two countries.

Russia has already frozen art loans to major American institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, fearing that its cultural property could be seized after the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Chabad-Lubavitch movement won a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in 2010 compelling the return of its texts.

The Met — and possibly other major lending institutions — are weighing whether to discontinue loans of cultural property to Russia.

The issue has become so important to relations between the U.S. and Russia that the Justice Department has signaled for the first time in court papers that by Monday, it may weigh in on the legal case — which the Russians pulled out of in 2009, citing sovereign immunity.

Federal attorneys declined to comment for this story, and Russia's Culture Ministry did not respond to numerous calls, emails and faxes from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The U.S. State Department has worked to support Chabad's campaign to reclaim its sacred texts since the 1990s.

Chabad is a worldwide Orthodox Hasidic Jewish movement, and has spent decades trying to reclaim the trove of thousands of religious books, manuscripts and handwritten documents, known as the Schneerson Collection, held in Russian repositories. Collected since 1772 by the leaders of the movement, the revered religious papers include Chabad's core teachings and traditions.

Russian officials have argued that Chabad has no ownership rights over the collection and that the case belongs in Russian courts because it considers the works part of the country's cultural heritage.

Chabad won the right to reclaim the sacred texts from a Soviet court in 1991, but after the collapse of the USSR, the new Russian authorities threw out the judgment.

Cultural objects lent from foreign countries are protected from legal claims under U.S. law, as long as they are deemed to be "in the national interest" and "of cultural significance" by the State Department — which is the case in major exhibitions.

Nevertheless, some Russian officials are convinced that seizure of that country's cultural property is a preordained outcome of the court's decision.

"We know what is done in such cases: the state property — planes, ships, paintings — is arrested," said Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, the director of Russia's State Hermitage Museum, in a recent interview with the Russian newspaper, the Saint-Petersburg Vedomosty. "Consequently, the Russian government won't issue permits for exhibitions in the U.S."

But Seth Gerber of Bingham McCutchen, an attorney for Chabad, said the group had no plans to ask the court to seize Russian cultural property.

"Chabad will not seek to enforce its judgment by attaching or executing against any art or object of cultural significance which is immune from seizure under federal law and loaned by the Russian Federation to American museums," he said in an e-mail to the AP.

Chabad filed a statement and letter to State Department officials with the court Friday, assuring the U.S. government of its intentions.

The Russian culture minister announced the ban in January.

Since then, key works from Russia that had been destined for exhibitions at The Met, the National Gallery and J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, have been held back.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science postponed its show of 150 jeweled objects amassed by Russian royalty, an exhibition that was originally scheduled to open May 20. "We do know that the show will open at some point," said Latha Thomas, a spokeswoman for the museum.

An exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts," is scheduled to open on June 15, with or without the Russian objects that were to be included in the show of 250 works, a museum spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass., was forced to shutter its only major show of the year after the Russian government in March called back 37 lent objects.

"It's all such a nightmare," said Kent Russell, the curator of the museum, which had already spent about $300,000 promoting the show when it had to be closed. "We had a lot riding on this. We had a lot of tours that had to be cancelled. The catalog is of absolutely no value to us whatsoever."

The Met recently said it was negotiating an agreement to show its exhibit of clothing designer Paul Poiret at the Kremlin Museum in Moscow this fall. "But if the embargo continues the museum may reconsider," said Met spokeswoman Elyse Topalian.

Legal experts and art professionals find it implausible that Russian cultural property lent to U.S. institutions could be seized.

Howard Spiegler, an attorney with the International Art Law Group at Herrick, Feinstein, a New York-based firm, said exhibitions that are imported from abroad, as long as they are certified by the U.S. State Department, are protected from seizure.

"What bothers me about this is that Russia is disingenuously trying to place blame on the plaintiffs in the Chabad case for Russia's alleged inability to loan artworks for the good of the American public," Spiegler said.

Greg Guroff, the president of the Bethesda, Md.-based Foundation for International Arts & Education, was a cultural attache to the Soviet Union and has advised both the Chabad and Russian Federation. He said the Russians' fear that their cultural property will be seized was unfounded.

"It's so farfetched, it's hard for us to believe. They send artwork to other countries that have much less protection. Why exactly this fervor, no one can quite figure out," he said.

Phone messages and emails sent to officials at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., seeking comment for this story were not returned.

The Schneerson Collection is comprised of two distinct sets: the "Library," which was seized by Russia's Bolshevik government during the October Revolution of 1917; and the "Archive," which scholars say was "twice plundered" because it was looted by the Nazis in 1939 and then taken by the Red Army to the Soviet Union in 1945 as "trophy" documents.

Gerber, the movement's lawyer, said the Russian government has repatriated Nazi-looted property taken by the Soviet military to a number of countries, including France, Belgium and the Netherlands, but has stubbornly refused to return the collection.

Other documents taken by Soviet trophy brigades from the Nazis that could help to reconstruct how Jews lived before and during the Holocaust have not been returned, as demonstrated by the newly published English-language guide to collections at the Russian State Military Archive, "Nazi-Looted Jewish Archives in Moscow."

The book, which includes a description of the Schneerson texts captured during World War II, was published in association with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Jewish Theological Seminary, with funding for the research coming from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Wesley Fisher, the research director at the Claims Conference, said the collections, some of the most important archives of their kind in the world, were believed to have been destroyed for decades until they were found secreted away in the former Soviet Union.

These are some of the last prisoners who have not gone home," he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Today's News

May 16, 2011

Restituted Work Leads Sotheby's German, Austrian and Central European Paintings Sale

Wife Of Detained Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei Finds Him Tense, Conflicted and in Good Health

Richard Scrushy Collection Sells at Freeman's Modern & Contemporary Art Auction

Decades-Long Dispute Over Ownership of Holy Text Archive Leads Russia To Nix Art Loans

National Portrait Gallery Commissions Painting of Sir Michael Parkinson by Jonathan Yeo

Fifty Objects Ranging from 6,000 B.C. to 2011 A.D. in "Cabinets of Curiosity" at James Cohan Gallery

The Rich Tradition of Czech Photography Offered in Sale by artnet Auctions

One of the Most Significant Archaeological Sites on Easter Island Gets New Visitor Center

Art Gallery of South Australia Set to Host Saatchi Gallery Major Survey in July

New York Honors First Union Officer Killed in Civil War with Funeral Re-Enactment

Exhibition at Moderna Museet Includes Every Facet of Klara Lidén's Oeuvre

Exhibition of Italian Prints and Drawings on View at the Georgia Museum of Art

Contemporary Art from the RBC Wealth Management Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg

Charles Ledray's Diminutive Yet Powerfully Resonant Objects at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum in San Diego to Stage Protest of Ai Weiwei's Detention on May 19

Hundreds Enjoy Romare Bearden Exhibition at the Museum of the African Diaspora

Jessica Backhaus and Adam Bartos at the Robert Morat Galerie

Auction Records Set for 19th and 20th Century Prints and Portfolios at Swann Galleries

Crowning Jewels from One of Britain's Richest Women on Sale at Christie's in London

Photos from the Beatles Last Group Publicity Shoot Now Available for Public Purchase

Jonathan VanDyke to Perform The Long Glance at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery

From Pysanky Eggs to Graffiti, Folk Artists Bring Rich Traditions to the Michener Art Museum

Rare Cosmetic Box by Imperial Artist Tops Bonhams Japanese Sale

Christie's Names Amy Cappellazzo Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Developement

Most Popular Last Seven Days

1.- Boy and an amateur archaeologist unearth legendary Danish king's trove in Germany

2.- Exhibition at The Met illustrates what visitors encountered at The palace of Versailles

3.- Philadelphia Museum of Art opens "Modern Times: American Art 1910-1950"

4.- Exhibition at Michael Hoppen Gallery presents a cross-section of works from Thomas Mailaender's career

5.- New York's Chelsea Hotel celebrity door auction raises $400,000

6.- Stevie Ray Vaughan's first guitar drives Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Auction to nearly $2.9 million

7.- Lichtenstein's Nude with Blue Hair tops $2.4 million sale of Modern & Contemporary Prints & Multiples

8.- $6.7 million Fancy Intense Blue Diamond sets auction record at Sotheby's New York

9.- Mexico court blocks sales of controversial Frida Kahlo Barbie doll

10.- Dutch museums to conduct new research on the paintings of Pieter de Hooch

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
Editor & Publisher:Jose Villarreal - Consultant: Ignacio Villarreal Jr.
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful