Galerie Gmurzynska

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Galerie Gmurzynska in Paradeplatz 2, Zürich.

Galerie Gmurzynska is a commercial art gallery in Zürich, Switzerland that specializes in modern and contemporary art and work by the Russian Avant-garde.


The gallery was founded in 1965 in Cologne, Germany by Antonina Gmurzynska. In its first year an exhibition of Japanese art from the 14th to the 19th century was held, followed by an exhibition of works by French painter Pierre Bonnard. The following year the gallery presented the work of David Burliuk. Up until 1971 the gallery’s program focused on Surrealism and international Constructivism in addition to Russian avant-garde. Subsequently, Modernists including Pablo Picasso, Kurt Schwitters, Fernand Leger, Lyonel Feininger, and Robert and Sonia Delaunay and Sylvester Stallone were incorporated into the gallery’s program. The gallery currently represents the Estate of Yves Klein, the Estate of Wifredo Lam, the Estate of Louise Nevelson, Karl Lagerfeld, Scott Campbell and Robert Indiana among others.[1][2]

Galerie Gmurzynska made its name as a supplier of avant-garde Russian art to Western collectors. Its current owner, Krystina Gmurzynska-Bscher took over the gallery following her mother's death in 1986 and now runs it with her business partner Mathias Rastorfer.

Forty years after its establishment, the gallery relocated from Cologne to its new location in Zürich’s Paradeplatz in 2005. The building that currently houses the gallery dates back to 1857 and it is the same building in which the first important Dada exhibition was on show in 1917.[3] Each exhibition at the gallery is accompanied by a self-published catalogue.

The gallery has two further branches in Zug and St. Moritz.

Smuggling of Nikolai Khardzhiev archive[edit]

According to Geraldine Norman OBE, an advisor to the Hermitage Museum, Antonina 'sought out the artists' families in Russia and became adept at sneaking art out of the country - art which was anyway banned by the Soviet government.'[4]

The Galerie was involved in the removal of a major collection of documents, drawings and paintings by Russian Futurist artists estimated at around £100M belonging to Nikolai Khardzhiev and his wife Lidia Chaga. Geraldine Norman has described how 'Krystyna and Rastorfer went to Moscow with Professor Weststeijn [at the time a professor at the University of Amsterdam] in 1993 to meet the Khardzhievs. They drew up and signed an agreement through which Krystyna would give the old couple $2.5 million in Amsterdam. In return she was promised four paintings and two gouaches by Malevich worth some $30 million.' The gallery arranged the packing and removal of the couple's Moscow flat, but little of their archive ever reached them in Amsterdam. When the loss became public knowledge in Russia, there was an outcry aimed at the Russian Ministry of Culture. The investigating Russian authorities recovered a case containing a document outlining a deal struck between Gmurzynska and the couple:

'It contained two revealing documents: a single paragraph agreement between Khardzhiev and Krystyna Gmurzynska in which she promised "material support" to the tune of $2.5 million after he reached Amsterdam, and a page containing sketches of six works by Malevich inscribed "I, Kh. N. I. [Nikolai Ivanovich Khardzhiev], give to K.G.B. [Krystyna Gmurzynska-Bscher] to keep for ever six works of Kaz. M. [Kazimir Malevich]". The first document was witnessed by Chaga, Willem Weststeijn and Krystyna's business partner, Mathias Rastorfer.

Rastorfer, however, says that these documents were not contracts but merely "letters of intent". The gallery negotiated a tougher deal once the two old people were in Holland. He says that he rang the Hilton a couple of months after they arrived to sort things out and discovered that they were furious with the gallery. They felt that they had been deceived and abandoned; only part of the collection and archives had reached them and they had been left to their own devices at the Hilton while their visas ran out.[4]

The New York Times reported that 'After the agreement came to light in 1994, Ms. Gmurzynska and Mr. Rastorfer denied taking part in the smuggling. But they would not say how the trove was moved, only that they advanced the couple money to relocate in November 1993 and completed the purchase of the art after it left Russia. The Khardzhievs told a very different story. The two art dealers not only took charge of moving their belongings, they said, but also helped to pack and carry away suitcases full of art.

Even this lady Gmurzynska was carrying very heavy valises, Mr. Khardzhiev told a Russian journalist, Konstantin Akinsha, who interviewed him in Amsterdam two years later. I was impressed by her womanly strength.[5]

The case was also covered by Tony Wood in 'New Left Review'. This article states that 'Khardzhiev’s wife Lydia Chaga died in suspicious circumstances in late 1995; though no foul play is alleged regarding the death of Khardzhiev himself in March 1996, several more paintings—at least $12.5m worth—were sold to the Galerie Gmurzynska after his death, before the Dutch journalist Hella Rottenberg raised the alarm.' [6]

Other Controversies and legal issues[edit]

More recently, Galerie Gmurzynska was involved in a dispute with New York dealer Asher B. Edelman. Edelman had loaned a work by American painter Robert Ryman to Galerie Gmurznyska for exhibition in 2007. The painting was damaged but, according to Edelman, Gmurzynska 'disputed the damage claim and instructed its insurer, the Berlin- and Zurich-based Kuhn & Bülow Versicherungsmakler, to refuse payment. Edelman’s insurer, New York-based XL Specialty Insurance, which had insured the Ryman picture for $750,000, then made Edelman its assignee and he took the gallery to federal court.'[7] Edelman resolved the matter at the opening of the Art Basel Miami Beach fair when he arranged for Miami Police, carrying a writ of execution for an unanswered lawsuit against the gallery, to confiscate some of Gmurzynska's works. The suit included 'an additional $250,000 for “willful conduct of defendant” and “reprehensible motives and such wanton dishonesty as to imply a criminal indifference to civil obligations.” The suit resulted in a default judgment for the plaintiff for about $765,000.[8]

In a piece titled 'Seized the Day', Artinfo describes how 'Gmurzynska paid the judgment plus incidental costs, including the expense of enlisting the services of the U.S. marshals, and the confiscated pictures were returned to the gallery’s stand.' Rastorfer's response was to deny any knowledge of the legal action and claim that had been served upon Gmurzynska's gallery.


The gallery is currently being investigated by the FCA (Federal Customs Administration) for alleged VAT evasion totalling some six million Swiss francs. Under Swiss law, owners of artworks do not have to pay import charges until works of art are formally brought into the country, i.e. they come out of storage and are officially transferred. On Tuesday April 16th 2013, the gallery was raided by officials on the suspicion of supplying the five-star Hotel Dolder in Zurich with imported artworks valuing 75M Swiss Francs without paying duty. [9]

The Swiss authorities seized a large number of documents during their raid. Gmurzynska filed a complaint in order to prevent their inspection, but the Federal Court has ruled that in a criminal investigation of this kind where there is reasonable suspicion, the prosecuting FCA can demand to see papers it considers relevant to the case. [10]

The case has been covered in several international outlets including 'Die Welt'.[11]


External links[edit]