The Zaks Affair: Anatomy of a Fake Collection documentary

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The fakes of the Avant-Garde Documentary 

In March, “The Zaks Affair: Anatomy of a Fake Collection” documentary aired on BBC4 (London, UK). The documentary was created following the work of Ukrainian art historian Dr. Konstantin Akinsha, British art dealer, collector, and art expert James Butterwick and Andrei Vassiliev who have been fighting for the past 20 years to expose the fakes of the Avant-Garde, that plague both the market and world museums.

Butterwick, an expert in the field of the Ukrainian modernist tradition, appeared continuously on the British Channel Four’s programme ‘Oligart’ and the BBC’s ‘Fake or Fortune’. Akinsha, in his turn, had written an article titled ‘Fake’ for the New York magazine ARTnews as far back as 1996, in which he revealed dozens of works sold in error at European auctions as avant-garde masterpieces.
It was the first investigation to show the scale of the problem with the Russian art market. He has continued to consult on the matter – his advice caused the Museum Ludwig in Cologne to recognise many of its holdings to be forgeries.

Back to The Zaks Affair documentary, it reveals the story of the Zaks Collection, named after its owner, a Soviet emigrant, Leonid Zaks, now a citizen of Israel, and how some of the paintings of the fake collection were sold for hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs, several works were until recently on display in top American and European museums, and one was even featured in the Oscar-winning Oppenheimer movie.

The story shows how easily dubious paintings with fabricated histories can find their way into the leading museums of the world, where they are seen by hundreds of thousands of people, printed on the pages of catalogues, and a new generation of art historians grows up with them.
It proves again, that the aggressive and supercilious “russian” culture, that used to appropriate the cultures and heritage of other nations and label them collectively as “russian” during the imperialistic and soviet times, quite frequently employs distorted information and lies to build even bigger ‘fake’.
The movie is now available on BBC iPlayer, highly recommended to watch.