Charged with embezzlement and wanted by Russian authorities, billionaire banker Alexei Ananyev can add a new problem to his substantial list: a cache of Soviet artworks missing from his private museum, the Institute of Russian Realist Art (IRRA) in Moscow, has been seized in a village outside the city, according to the Art Newspaper.
The contents of the collection came under scrutiny in 2017 after Ananyev and his brother Dmitry—who is also wanted for embezzling nearly $1.6 billion—lost ownership of their bank, Promsvyazbank. The bank’s new management had a few questions for the museum, foremost: Where were hundreds of millions of rubles worth of art?
It was hidden in a storage facility near the Church of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God, allegedly. Mash.ru, a Russian journalism website, first broke the story, posting video of paintings and rare books obtained by investigators. The museum has denied charges that art was missing, and Nadezhda Stepanova, its art director, told Russian Art Focus earlier this year that ownership of the collection had been transferred to a foundation, separate from the bank and Alexei Ananyev, several years ago.
Russian lawyer Andrei Knyazev told Kommersant FM radio that the works discovered in storage most likely will be distributed among state museums. “When items of artistic and historical value are seized, they will not be auctioned off,” Kynaze said. “But there is no principle by which they are distributed, in this case there will be many contenders and likely it will be determined who will be able to most diligently manage the collection and display it.”
Since opening in 2011 in Moscow’s historic “Zamoskvorechye” district, IRRA has become widely regarded for its compressive offerings of 20th-century Russian realist paintings. Three floors of exhibition space displayed around 500 pieces from artists such as Alexander Deinek, Arkady Plastov, and brother Sergei and Alexei Tkachev.
According to the museum’s website, is “closed indefinitely.”