Art critic Dmytro Gorbachev: "Eye is a computer"

The Exclusive of the Library of the Ukrainian Art

Text by Kateryna Lebedieva

The name of Dmytro Omelyanovich Gorbachev is familiar to everyone who is  at least a bit interested in the Ukrainian culture. An art critic who popularizes the term “Ukrainian avant-garde” not only in Ukraine but also in the West; author of books and scripts, researcher, charismatic lecturer and a man with a brilliant sense of humor. We talked with Dmytro Omelyanovich about the brightest episodes of his work as an expert.

Dmytro Gorbachov during Book Arsenal Festival, May 2017.

Some time ago I happened to read  an article about Malevich and the avant-garde. My name was mentioned in it, though, without much respect. The article dealt with the fact that  on the art market of the Russian avant-garde there is more forgery than real art works. They also wrote that I introduced into the market the works that had never been exhibited, and which had been never written about. The principle of an archivist is to find traces. But in a large number of avant-garde works the provenance had never been ascertained. So should we refuse to do the work? No, I do not think so. Not an archivist, but an expert whose eyes have been estimating hundreds of works, almost immediately is able to state whether this is a real thing or not. At the energetics level. The work can be well done, but “dead”. There are such art critics who label “falshak” to everything. There are cock and bull stories about me; they say anything you  bring him, Gorbachev calls “Malevich”…

What do you think about the scandal with the exhibition of Igor Toporovsky’s collection in Belgium?

There are some originals there, for example, the works by Alexander Rodchenko. The rest is rubbish. 90% of the fakes immediately fall out, but 10% must be studied carefully. In general,any work must being watched for a long time in order to understand how the eye reacts, and  only after that the conclusion can be made.The eye of the expert is a computer. It captures a bunch of circumstances which even are difficult to be formulated. Long time ago I asked a tailor about a cloth if it was cheviot or drape. He ansewered sheviot. I asked why? He answered that he could see it! I thought  that he was a real expert, he could see it,without revising any documents, although this is  important too. Any expert must develope visual perception; intuition is gained with long practice. In fact, there are a lot of fakes, not just in avant-garde: everything you want can be forged to earn money. Nowadays even prominent artists sometimes do it,they seem to be embodied into the artist whose works are being forged. I know one alike who strikingly falsifies the manner of Bogomazov in drawing. But only in drawing, his painting turns pale and unexpressive.

What other interesting stories can you tell us about art forgery?

Fictions at the highest level in the history of art are few. But there were also such cases when the artist himself recognized his work. For example, the French artist Maurice Utrillo even sued with one of his imitators but when he was shown the picture, he said: ”It may be my work”.There was a Spanish painter who falsificated Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne and he always remained above suspicion, but when he died,a lot of half finished canvases were found in his studio. If a copy is made at the level of the artist, there is no reason to worry. This does not compromise the artist. But there are, on the contrary, such originals, to which the artist did not even touch. Tetyana Yablonska‘s picture “Bread” is now exibited in the National Art Museum. Tetyana Nilivna was asked to copy her own picture. The original of “Bread” belongs to Tretyakov Gallery. She did not want to do it so she hired an artist Ivan Yukhno, a good copyist. He made an impeccable copy. Yablonska only marked a year, 1950, while in the original is 1949, and signed the picture. In this way she authorized it. So if a brilliant copyist remakes a picture at the level of the artist, it is impossible to prove anything.

Page from Tugendhold’s book about Exter, 1922.

How many art expertises did you do in your life and when did you start?

I have been doing them verbally since 1965. I started with Alexandra Exter‘s “Bridge Sevr”. It was not difficult, because in the book by Tugendhold published in 1922 this work was reproduced. Then some guys brought “Pimonenko”, and it was rubbish. How did they produce fakes in the 1960s? They took any appropriate sketch, put a sign “Repin”, “Pimonenko”even hardly trying to imitate the signature. The art market looked like that. In 1990s I first went abroad and met with a collector, a friend of Marcade. She also brought the work of Exter to be examined. After that the Russian experts reproached me with not taking money for that, saying that it was their bread so I had to be paid too. First I took as much as I was offered and later I began to give a written certificate. Sometimes I was  asked for more information about the object and it turned to become a kind of art recearch. One of the collectors once told me that my report on the picture was so interesting that he started exhibiting it. At that time Iwas paid 100 dollars until once in America a collector said that $100 was a tip. And he gave $200. After arriving home I began to take $200 for an examination. In the 1980s in the Tretyakov Gallery, young art historians took 5 rubles for an examination. They took 5 rubles and asked the collectors: “Whose name do you want me to write?”

Were styles and methods of falsificating art items different before the 1990s and after that period?

Before ”perestroika” painting practically had no value, there were no auctions, museums and collectors were not robbed. In the National Art Museum of Ukraine the windows were constantly open, the latches did not work, because they were still of the pre-revolutionary times of Nicholas Bilyashivsky and Fedir Ernst. But the moment came when art works started being sold and bought and the first robberies began. Chudnovsky from Leningrad, who had Chagall and Malevich, was robbed in his apartment. Dozens of people used to come to his place, and one day the people from the Caucases came, according to the recommendation. They attacked him, tied his hands and feet, put him on the floor and began to cut out the paintings from the frames according to the plan: they knew where were the pictures they wanted. But on the eve of this event he changed the order and Malevich and Chagal were in other places. The next day the collector went to the Hermitage and located those masterpieces into deposit… In Poltava Art Museum in the 1990s the still life of the 17th century disappeared. Everyone was surprised because there was no alarm. It turned out that the robbers had an agreement with the police. Two years later the still-life was found in Manchester!

Have you ever been mistaken while examinating pictures?

Yes, I have. Thieves often take psychological moments into account. Once a beautiful girl in tears came to my place. He said that her grandfather from Zhytomyr died, there was his collection in the attic. The pictures were not outstanding, but in the style of some artist (I do not remember who exactly). I thought that he had a kind of creative failure and determined the work as an original. Two months later another beauty comes in, cries and says “grandfather died, the attic is full of of pictures”. I asked her: ”in Zhytomyr?” ”No, in Vinnitsa”.I drew her away and turned back to the previous one to reconsider my decision… Once a collection of works by Malevich’s pupils appeared. I invited Igor Dychenko to have a look at it and he bought the best of those works. A year later, we began to see and realized that that was Kazimir Severinovich himself: the forms have no weight, only Malevich could paint like that. Not a masterpiece, not the best work; It is evident that a person had been experimenting. Up to now, Jean-Claude Marcade has confirmed that this is Malevich of 1916. The work is kept in the Art Arsenal in Kyiv.

Vasyl Yermylov. Portrait of the artist Olexiy Pochtenniy. 1924.

What painters, by the way, are more often falsificated?

All those who are expensive: Anatol Petrytsky, Oleksandr Khvostenko-Khvostov. In the 1990s, Vasyl Yermylov “Portrait of the artist Olexiy Pochtenniy” (1924) was sold at Sotheby’s. A German collector bought it. I could see clearly that it was a fake.The collector sais: ” Do not tell me that, I bought it because it costs $50 thousand, not $500 thousand, and the expert assured me that the work was real”. At that moment I realized that not everyone wants to know the truth… But there is an inaccurate attribution too. A collector writes from America: Exter has been found, could you confirm? But even from the photo I can see that it is a work of Katria Vasilieva, the student of Exter. The owner of the picture asks: ”Could you not tell anyone about it?” Yes I can. Obviously, he wanted to sell this work as an Exter’s one, and this is not my business. Once an agent brought a picture of Olexandr Murashko, in my opinion, of 1905. At the restoration workshop, it was originally said that it was the second third of the 20th century, and six months later the same restorers decided that it was the last third of the twentieth century. They found the paints, the mass production of which was launched in 1916. But before 1916, these paints had been produced by handicraftsmen. And they were found in the pictures of Yavlensky, a friend of Kandinsky. As we know. Murashko visited Munich in 1905 and had a nice time with Yavlensky there! So the main thing is an expert eye. Devices can also make mistakes. Do you know an anecdote about Picasso? Furtseva, the Minister of Culture of the USSR, arrived in Paris for a conference. She is asked for her identity card. She forgot it at home. “Do not worry, you can prove that you are really Furtseva. Recently, we had Picasso here,he also forgot his papers, but he quickly drew a picture in his original manner. Everybody could see that it was Picasso. “And who is Picasso?”, she asks, “Oh, you are welcome, you have proved that you are the Minister of Culture of the Soviet Union.”

This situation can also be applicable to our realities?


Kazimir Malevich. Suprematist Composition. 1916. From Art Arsenal in Kyiv.