A lot of people have been quitting their jobs lately. Throughout the pandemic, people have resigned for various reasons, from stagnating wages, to a rising cost of living, to general dissatisfaction with their work. But quitting because you failed to do the most basic tasks required of you is certainly an embarrassing low point for anyone. Well, that’s what happened recently to the director of Slovenia’s National Museum.
Pavel Car, the now-former museum director, oversaw the staging of an exhibition made up of one hundred sixty works from the family of Josip Boljkovac, Croatia’s former interior minister who passed away in 2014. The Travels exhibition was set to feature a large collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century works by Picasso, Chagall, Toulouse-Lautrec, Turner, and others. After Slovenia’s community of art historians raised many concerns and objections, many of the works were revealed as forgeries. So it was no great surprise when Director Car cancelled the exhibition hours before its opening last Thursday, June 9th. I am sure the Boljkovac family was not very happy since the collection would be worth well over a billion dollars if they were all genuine.
While a revelation of this kind is often rather shocking, the story’s details show that this is less of a tragedy and more of a farce. It seems that the museum administration failed to exercise due diligence when looking into the Boljkovac family collection. The only documentation reviewed was each work’s authenticity certificates, and no attention was paid to provenance, nor was any literature consulted. They did not even take the time to look up the works in the artists’ respective catalogue raisonnés.
But I don’t think looking at the artists’ catalogues was necessary in some of these cases. The exhibition catalogue has since been leaked online. If you look through it, some works were so poorly executed that it seems almost comical that the Boljkovac family collection was even taken seriously. For example, if you turn to page 80 of the catalogue, it shows what was meant to be a still life of bananas and oranges on a table. It’s flat, amateurish, and rough around the edges, reminiscent of some primitivist works (and that’s being generous). So you can imagine the laugh we all had when the caption stated the pastel-on-cardboard work was by the French Post-Impressionist master Paul Cézanne. If you take the time to look at the childish fake, you can then compare it to this authentic Cézanne still life. Though the Cézanne fakes were atrociously executed, they did not stand out by any means. Most of the pieces passed off as being made by Corot, Degas, Vlaminck, Utrillo, and Renoir are such obvious fakes when you look at them long enough.
Why would the Boljkovac family expose themselves like this? Not sure. The most likely explanation is that since they aren’t known as a prominent art-collecting family, this exhibition would increase their exposure and legitimize them within the art world. And it’s also likely that they had no idea a good portion of their collection was made up of fakes. So I guess they didn’t expect this exposure to end in disaster. Slovenian police have since opened an investigation into the incident.