Orphan Paintings is an exhibition that explores fundamental assumptions about art by presenting a collection of over 150 paintings of unknown origins. The works in the collection are in the style of Russian avant-garde masters of the early twentieth century, including Kasimir Malevich, Liubov Popova, and Alexander Rodchenko. These paintings came to the United States beginning in 2004 when Denver architectural photographer Ron Pollard began purchasing them from a mid-level insurance administrator in Aachen, Germany, who told him the works were discovered in an unclaimed shipping container in German customs. Pollard partnered with his brother and a friend to purchase the works and began a research effort to have them authenticated. An art appraiser valued a portion of the collection at over $50 million. A certified handwriting forensic expert indicated a high probability that the handwriting on one of the paintings was that of Kasimir Malevich. Despite this evidence, authentication eludes the collection and the paintings cannot be formally attributed to any specific artist.
Orphan Paintings explores questions about the status of art. What is an authentic art experience? What precisely are we appreciating when we look at a work of art? Are we appreciating what is visible to us, or is it a range of invisible factors, such as the belief that it was made by a master artist or the opinion of experts about its authenticity? This collection of unauthenticated Russian avant-garde paintings asks: can an art experience be authentic even if the status of the work of art remains questionable? Are there other forms of authenticity aside from its attribution to an artist?
Orphan Paintings features over 150 works, considered by the collectors to be in the style of such artists as Kasimir Malevich, Ivan Kliun, Liubov Popova, Pavel Mansurov, Vladimir Tatlin, Albert Gleizes, Olga Rozanova, Ivan Puni, El Lissitzky, Nathan Altman, Vladimir Lebedev, Kliment Redko, Alexander Rodchenko, Bela Uitz, Alexandra Exter, Vera Pestel, Alexander Vesnin, Alexander Bogomazov, Lev Lapin, Vasili Ermilov, V. Stepanova, Nikoli Suetin, Ivan Chervinko and more.
The exhibition is curated by Adam Lerner. Adam Lerner is the Director and Chief Animator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. He received his Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University and his Masters from Cambridge University. He was a Pre-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (1997-8) and is currently (2008-10) a Livingston Fellow of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, awarded to emerging leaders in the non-profit sector. Mark Sofield is the exhibition designer and consulting curator for the exhibition. Sofield is an architect and principal of Prospect Land Company, Longmont, Colorado.