MOSCOW, November 8. /TASS/. The Rostov Kremlin state museum preserve in Rostov Veliky, Russia’s Yaroslavl region, seeks to return two original paintings by Russian avant-garde artists Kazimir Malevich and Lyubov Popova from the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki.

At a certain point in time, the paintings were stolen from the Russian museum preserve and replaced with fakes, Sergey Sazonov, deputy director general of the Rostov Kremlin, told TASS on Thursday.

He was referring to Samovar by Kazimir Malevich and Non-Objective Composition by Lyubov Popova. Experts said last year that these paintings on display at the Rostov Kremlin were the copies painted in the second half of the 20th century.

The museum informed the Russian Ministry of Culture and filed a report with the regional office of the Russian Interior Ministry. “As soon as a criminal investigation is launched, the fact of the theft will be registered juridically. After that, the state will be able to hold negotiations with Greece and the US,” Sazonov said.

The MoMA website says Malevich’s Samovar comes from the collection of the Rostov Kremlin, Sazonov added. “This inspires optimism. I think the Americans will return the painting. Reputation is very important for them, they won’t keep a stolen art work,” the deputy director of the museum said.

According to Sazonov, the museum preserve is engaged in a dialogue with the museums of New York and Thessaloniki. “We want this incident to unite our three museums instead of dividing them. We don’t want to see this turn into a kind of vulgar property division, this situation should not be viewed as a scandal,” he went on to say.

“First of all, this is an unusual story, a very interesting story, a detective involving brilliant works of art. And we, museums, should take advantage of this story for engaging in joint projects connected with these objects,” Sazonov said.

He said the Russian museum in Rostov Veliky would act within the framework of the International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) code of ethics. “We are sure that our partners in this story will also be guided by this code,” he added, also expressing hope that the Russian Foreign Ministry and the embassies of the US and Greece will also have their role in solving the issue.

The director of the museum department at the Russian Ministry of Culture, Vladislav Kononov, has confirmed to TASS that last year an expertise carried out independently by two agencies confirmed that the paintings were forged.

The museum turned to law enforcement agencies to probe the theft of the paintings. They are to find out how the copies instead of original paintings had turned up in the museum. When did it happen and who was involved in a possible theft and falsification. “These are the answers that are necessary to advance within the legal framework,” he added.

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