The Russian culture minister announced the ban in January.
Since then, key works from Russia that had been destined for exhibitions at the Met, the National Gallery and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, have been held back.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science postponed its show of 150 jeweled objects amassed by Russian royalty, an exhibition that originally was scheduled to open this Friday. “We do know that the show will open at some point,” said Latha Thomas, a spokeswoman for the museum.
An exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts,” is scheduled to open on June 15, with or without the Russian objects that were to be included in the show of 250 works, a museum spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass., was forced to shutter its only major show of the year after the Russian government in March called back 37 lent objects.
“It’s all such a nightmare,” said Kent Russell, the curator of the museum, which had spent about $300,000 promoting the show when it had to be closed. “We had a lot riding on this. We had a lot of tours that had to be canceled. The catalog is of absolutely no value to us whatsoever.”
The Met recently said it was negotiating an agreement to show its exhibit of clothing designer Paul Poiret at the Kremlin Museum in Moscow this fall. “But if the embargo continues, the museum may reconsider,” said Met spokeswoman Elyse Topalian.
Legal analysts and art professionals find it implausible that Russian cultural property lent to U.S. institutions could be seized.
Howard Spiegler, an attorney with the International Art Law Group at Herrick, Feinstein, a New York-based firm, said exhibitions that are imported from abroad, as long as they are certified by the State Department, are protected from seizure.
“What bothers me about this is that Russia is disingenuously trying to place blame on the plaintiffs in the Chabad case for Russia’s alleged inability to loan artworks for the good of the American public,” Mr. Spiegler said.
Greg Guroff, the president of the Bethesda, Md.-based Foundation for International Arts & Education, was a cultural attache to the Soviet Union and has advised the Chabad and the Russian Federation. He said the Russians’ fear that their cultural property will be seized was unfounded.
“It’s so far-fetched, it’s hard for us to believe. They send artwork to other countries that have much less protection. Why exactly this fervor, no one can quite figure out,” he said.
Phone messages and emails sent to officials at the Russian Embassy in Washington seeking comment were not returned.
The Schneerson Collection comprises two distinct sets: the “Library,” which was seized by Russia’s Bolshevik government during the October Revolution of 1917, and the “Archive,” which scholars say was “twice plundered” because it was looted by the Nazis in 1939 and then taken by the Red Army to the Soviet Union in 1945 as “trophy” documents.
Mr. Gerber, the movement’s attorney, said the Russian government has repatriated Nazi-looted property taken by the Soviet military to a number of countries, including France, Belgium and the Netherlands, but has stubbornly refused to return the collection.