Italy: Modigliani art exhibit found to be full of fakes

Image accompanying the Palazzo Ducale’s statement regarding the exhibition ‘Modigliani,’ which opened on March 17, 2017 but closed before its planned run was completed.

ROME (AP) – Consumer advocates in Italy demanded refunds for ticketholders Wednesday after an expert concluded that almost all the paintings in a Genoa exhibition devoted to Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani were fakes.

The expert, appointed by a Genoa court as part of a prosecutor’s probe, determined that at least 20 of the 21 paintings displayed during the 2017 Ducal Palace exhibit were clearly forged, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The palace shuttered the show in July, three days before the scheduled end of its four-month run, after prosecutors began investigating the doubts art experts had expressed over the authenticity of the paintings being attributed to Modigliani.

The palace, which had outsourced the show to private organizers, is itself seeking damages for the embarrassment caused by the episode.

Consumer advocate Furio Truzzi urged exhibition-goers Wednesday to seek refunds based on fraud. His organization set up a hotline for people who bought tickets or traveled to Genoa to see the show.

Noted Italian art collector Carlo Pepi, who was among the critics who questioned the provenance of the works displayed in Genoa, described the paintings as “garbage” in an interview on Italian state TV’s RaiNews24.

Modigliani, the early 20th century artist whose style as a painter and sculptor was distinguished by elongated necks and faces, died in poverty in Paris in 1920.

Modigliani fakes have caused embarrassment before in his native country. Three marble heads fished out of a canal in Leghorn during the 1980s were initially hailed as long-lost Modigliani masterpieces.

Instead, it turned out a trio of local students crafted the sculptures as a prank in 1984.

In closing down the exhibit in July, the Ducal Palace noted that it had outsourced the organization of the show, including the selection of the works to be displayed. The palace said it would “seek legal protection for its rights and public image.”

The owners of the paintings put on display in Genoa were likely to seek a counter-opinion from other experts, since actual works by Modigliani would be worth millions of dollars.

The court-appointed expert, Isabella Quattrocchi, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Italian news reports said she concluded that, among other details, the pigment on the exhibited paintings wasn’t consistent with the kind Modigliani used.

Milan daily newspaper Corriere della Sera quoted one of the exhibit’s two curators Wednesday defending his work and saying that he wasn’t the authenticator of the selected paintings.

“I gathered the information and the documentation that was supplied to me for every canvas,” curator Rudy Chiappini said. “If there have been irregularities, you need to go back to the source, to whoever made the first attribution” that Modigliani created the paintings.

“I, until proof to the contrary, remain of the idea that the artworks are good” ones, the newspaper quoted Chiappini as saying.

On the eve of the show’s March opening, Chiappini told The Associated Press: “Setting up an exhibition of Amedeo Modigliani is always a new adventure.”

“I believe that although he painted less than 300 paintings in his life, it’s always worth going through his career, starting from a new painting,” he added.

Here is the palace’s exact statement posted on its website after the exhbition’s closure:

Palazzo Ducale has been acknowledged by the District Attorney’s Office of Genoa about the inquiry on some of Modigliani’s artworks, and has been making all reasonable efforts to cooperate. Due to the ongoing procedure and regardless of its outcome, Palazzo Ducale has been suffering serious economic and public image damages (and may suffer more in the future) and considers itself exclusively as the injured party. Palazzo Ducale wishes to highlight not to be the direct organizer of the exhibition, having commissioned its production and the selection of the artworks to Mondo Mostre Skira, a nationally and internationally esteemed partner, Palazzo Ducale has been working with for years on great exhibitions like “Frida Kahlo,” “Da Van Gogh a Picasso. Capolavori dal Museo di Detroit” (fourth exhibition in the range in Italy for number of visitors in 2016).

Mondo Mostre Skira did choose Rudy Chiappini as main curator of the exhibition: he had been the director of the Museum of Art in Lugano for over 20 years. He is a respected curator of international exhibitions, including some on Modigliani, and was never called into question by the scientific community. For this reason Palazzo Ducale believes to have acted following all its usual criteria of care, both by choosing a partner of a remarkable international experience (whose President Massimo Vitta Zelman we deeply trust, after working together successfully for many years) and by sharing the decision of MondoMostreSkira to appoint a serious and acknowledged curator as Rudy Chiappini.

Palazzo Ducale confirms its own trust in the judges and will seek legal protection for its rights and public image.

Due to ongoing investigation on 21 artworks on display, Palazzo Ducale and Mondo Mostre Skira have decided to close the Modigliani exhibition in advance out of respect for all visitors. Thus, the show cannot be visited any longer.

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By FRANCES D’EMILIO, Associated Press

Auction Central News International contributed.

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