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City news, 06.02.2004 14:03

City museums not afraid of Malevich heirs' suits

Kasimir Malevich The State Russian Museum's collection of pictures by avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich are safe from claims by his descendants for their return, Interfax quoted Yevgenia Petrova, deputy director of the museum, as saying Wednesday. Her comment followed the news that the heirs of the artist, whose most famous work is the Black Square, have sued the city of Amsterdam in an attempt to recover 14 artworks that they say are rightfully theirs.

Petrova said the heirs had been contesting the ownership of Malevich works with several museums for several years. The Russian Museum has had virtually no involvement in the struggle, although it is monitoring events closely, she said.

"After the artist's death five of his official descendants gave 94 of his pictures and sketches to the Russian Museum for temporary storage.," Interfax quoted Petrova as saying. "Three were later returned to the owners, but the remainder were neither sold nor exchanged and remain in the museum."

This is not the first claim made by the artists' 35 grandchildren, nieces and nephews in Russia and elsewhere. In 1999 the Museum of Modern Art in New York agreed to a payment of what is believed to have been $5 million along with one painting in exchange for keeping 15 works by Malevich that have been at the Modern since 1935, when they were taken there for safekeeping. Also in 1999 the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University returned a painting and a drawing to the heirs.

Lawyers for the heirs said that the 14 artworks identified in the suit were worth $150 million. They were part of a group of more than 100 works that Malevich took to Berlin in 1927 for display at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition. When he was unexpectedly called back to the Soviet Union, he entrusted the art to several friends, including Alexander Dorner, director of the Landesmuseum in Hanover, and the German architect Hugo Haering. Malevich did not return to Germany (he died in Leningrad in 1935), and the Nazis banned such art as "degenerate.'' So Dorner sent some of the art to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and took others to the Busch-Reisinger Museum. The rest were lent to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and in 1958 they were sold to the city, which runs the museum.

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