After a week of tense negotiations, the founding owner of the Museum of Russian Icons has agreed to a disputed order from the Russian government to return rare artworks to a Moscow museum four months ahead of schedule to ensure good will for future loans.
Museum curator Kent dur Russell said yesterday packaging of 37 icons had been completed and they would be shipped "momentarily" to the Andrey Rublev Museum in Moscow.
He said the exhibit closed Sunday at 3 p.m. and packing had taken place under the watchful eyes of Boris Eremin and Zhanna Belik, conservator and curator, respectively, of the Rublev Museum.
Founding museum owner Gordon B. Lankton agreed to prematurely close the exhibit "Treasures from Moscow" to "preserve long-term relations" with the museum, which had contracted to loan him the icons to display through July 25.
"Our mission is clear: to enhance relations between Russia and the United States through the medium of ancient Russian art, especially Russian icons," said Lankton. "We are disappointed to have the icons leave early."
With no explanation, Russia's minister of culture ordered the icons return by issuing "a force majeure," a rarely invoked contractual clause mostly used to avoid liability due to war, natural disasters or "acts of God."
The former president of Nypro, an international plastics manufacturer, Lankton has acquired the world's largest private collection of Russian icons over the last 22 years. He spent more than $3 million of his money building the museum in a former post office in downtown Clinton and another $1 million for the new wing which housed the exhibit.
Lankton said last week Russia's demand was an overreaction to a decision in a U.S. court in Washington, D.C., involving ownership of 60,000 Jewish books and religious documents. In apparent retaliation, Russia has withheld several high-profile promised loans to large American museums.
While cautioning he "couldn't speak for Lankton," curator dur Russell said two Rublev officials who'd come to Clinton "made it clear this incident won't interfere with our long range plans" to cooperate on future loans.
"The people of the Andrey Rublev Museum are our colleagues. We both wish to maintain a long-term relationship," said dur Russell. "Ultimately, the Andrey Rublev and its staff are caretakers of the icons, which are fragile. We feel duty bound to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure their preservation. We are sincere at the Museum of Russian Icons."
Dur Russell said the Rublev officials "are saddened and dismayed by this situation, which they regard as a lost opportunity to share their museum's treasures with American viewers."
Lankton said previously the loss of four months of ticket sales and revenue from 10 related events will cost the museum a great deal of money. Although Russia is voiding the contract, officials there are insisting he pay return freight though, dur Russell said, "shipping costs" are still being discussed.
Russell said an exhibit of 30 "extraordinary" icons Lankton purchased over the last several years was "being put up" as the other exhibit was being dismantled.
He said one "highly revered" 16th century icon illustrating a fable of Christ's visage being duplicated onto a piece of cloth is arguably "the most important Byzantine painting in the U.S." "These new icons show Gordon Lankton's full maturing as a collector who's now in his absolute prime," said Russell.