Russia withholds art loans to LACMA in retaliation for U.S. court ruling on Jewish texts

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Thirty-eight artworks from Russia that three institutions, including the State Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, promised to loan to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s “Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts” are being withheld by the Russian government.

Scheduled to open at LACMA June 5, the show also includes more than 200 objects from other sources and will go forward regardless. But LACMA officials are hoping Russia will relent and allow the loans, including a gold- and silk-embroidered Turkish tent that is planned as a centerpiece for one section of the exhibition.

Earlier this year, after the LACMA borrowings had been arranged, the Russian government began denying loans to U.S. museums as an expression of outrage over a 2010 federal court decision that has nothing to do with art or museums and everything to do with religion and international politics.

The ruling out of U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., last July -- and backed by an appellate court -- held that under both United States and international law, Russia must return a trove of thousands of religious books and rabbinic writings to Chabad, an international U.S.-based branch of Hasidic Judaism.


The Russian Federation’s Soviet precursors had seized the texts, which Chabad holds sacred, in two groups: some during and after the Russian Revolution, the rest during World War II, when they were stolen by the Nazis, then recovered by Soviet forces.

Now Russian authorities are disputing that an American court has the right to require the return of Russian government property –- and Russia is trying to use art loans as diplomatic leverage.

For the full story, click here.


Chabad battles Russia for trove of works

For the record, 4:45 p.m., May 25: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said ‘Sultans’ in the LACMA exhibition title, rather than ‘Sultan.’

-- Mike Boehm