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Art Display Opens, But One Expert Says Its Full of Fakes

July 18, 1987

ZAGREB, Yugoslavia (AP) _ An exhibition of 3,750 paintings, sculptures and other artworks opened here Friday, and though it was hailed as a cultural treasure trove, art experts questioned the authenticity of many of the pieces.

The collection was donated by Ante Topic Mimara, a Yugoslav with a mysterious World War II past who died this year. Local media have compared it to that of U.S. industrialist and philanthropist Armand Hammer.

The permanent display includes master paintings, sculptures, antiques, glass, porcelains, silver and ivories and is housed in a downtown 19th century building dubbed the ″Zagreb Louvre.″

The collection catalogue says Mimara’s inventory includes paintings by Michelangelo, Van Gogh, El Greco, Rembrandt, Raphael; sculptures by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo; icons dating from the first century; and antiques from Egypt, China, Africa and Rome.

Yugoslav officials say the exhibition puts this Croatian city of about 1 million people on the cultural map. When the best part of the collection was previewed here in 1983, however, several prominent Western art experts alleged it contained few genuine works.

In its summer edition, the prominent New York quarterly ARTnews quoted Italian art historian Federico Zeri as saying the preview contained ″trash along with some good things. Ninety percent is junk.″

Yugoslav art historians were reluctant to talk about the collection partly because Mimara, who died at age 89 in February, had good personal contacts with many Yugoslav communist officials, including the late leader Josip Broz Tito.

The Croatian government has invested about $5 million to remodel the former school that houses the collection Mimara said was worth $6 billion in 1973.

A prominent Yugoslav art historian, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the exhibit meant Zagreb has a collection worthy of study ″even though it might be the greatest collection of fakes in the world.″

Mimara is known in the United States for his 1963 sale of the ivory Bury St. Edmunds Cross to New York’s Metropolitan Museum for $600,000.

A series of articles recently published by the state-run Duga magazine described him as a mystery man whose activities it alleged ranged from spying for the Yugoslavs, Soviets and Americans to working with the Western allies after the restitution efforts of World War II.

Throughout most of the war, according to Duga, Mimara was in Nazi Germany, where he is said to have been intimate with Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering, known as the Third Reich’s most avid art collectors.

Duga said Mimara acquired vast parts of his collection from Jews fleeing Hitler’s Europe, and later from Nazi officials fleeing Germany after the war.

After the preview of his collection in 1983, Mimara told The Associated Press he acquired his collection through smart buying and selling. He has rejected accusations he had acquired the art by dubious means.

ARTnews quoted Zeri as saying, ″Mimara knew nothing. He was a total ignoramus, therefore he (collected) as if blindfolded.″

Attending the opening ceremonies was Mimara’s Austrian-born widow, Wiltrud Topic-Mersmann.

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