Who manages the Khardzhiev collection?
Nikolai Khardzhiev founded the Khardzhiev-Chaga Cultural Centre Foundation in 1995 in order to preserve and provide access to the collection, becoming its first director. The objective of the foundation was to safeguard the couple’s collection and keep it intact. Khardzhiev left the collection to the foundation in his will.
Khardzhiev died in 1996, one year after establishing the foundation. His death was followed by a dark period in the collection’s history. According to the foundation’s deed of formation, Khardzhiev’s sole heir, Boris Abarov, was to succeed him as the sole director. If Abarov did not wish to do so, the seat on the board would be filled by a person designated by him. As it turned out, Abarov did not wish to accept this position and appointed a civil-law notary, C.M.R. Privé. This civil-law notary was also appointed as the executor in the will. In 1997, Michaël Privé sold important works from the collection to Gmurzynska, a German gallery, claiming that this was to cover the costs of managing the estate. Privé and Boris Abarov allegedly conspired together to deprive the estate of millions by selling work belonging to the collection while the foundation was unable to accept its ‘optional legacy’. Privé’s activities came to light and his position became untenable due to extensive media attention, in particular from research journalist Hella Rottenberg. His administration of the estate came to an end in 1998*, the year that the foundation was able to transfer the collection – with the exception of the works which had been sold – to the Stedelijk Museum. In 2000 the foundation was able to reach an agreement with Privé, Abarov and the Ministry of Finance, whereby the matter, including the payment of a significant amount of inheritance tax, could finally be settled. Huub Roelvink, former advocate-general of the supreme court, later ruled in an external investigation that the interventions of Privé and Abarov had led to important art works not entering into the possession of the Khardzhiev Foundation, but the slim chance of success, coupled with the high cost and presumably long duration of legal measures, made it difficult to justify initiating legal proceedings against the parties involved.
Since the Stedelijk Museum has had the collection on loan it has made it accessible, with the support of the Khardzhiev Foundation, to a wider audience through exhibitions, publications and symposiums. Furthermore, the unity of the Khardzhiev collection has been secured thanks to the foundation lodging a successful claim to protect the collection as cultural heritage. On the foundation’s initiative, the collection of literary and cultural-historical manuscripts has been transferred to the Russian State Archive for Literature and Art (RGALI) in Moscow. Amsterdam has retained a digital copy of the entire archive.
* Click here for sources on the Foundation’s history.