The federal institution is investigating the origin and journey of a collection of dubious authenticity presented at the Orlando Museum of Art. It could be worth up to $100 million – unless it’s fake.
There are eels under the Basquiats of Florida. The FBI seized 25 works attributed to Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) and exhibited at the Orlando Museum of Art, in Florida, due to doubts about their authenticity, Agence France Presse learned on Saturday from the American museum. . The establishment complied on Friday with a request from the FBI to have access to the exhibition Heroes and Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat, in which the works of the pioneer of street art were presented. The stakes are high: if they were authenticated despite their obscure background and some strange details, the 25 paintings could be worth up to 100 million dollars.
The works are now in the hands of US federal police, museum spokeswoman Emilia Bourmas-Fry told AFP. “It is important to note that we were not made to understand that the museum was under investigation”, she clarified. The exhibit was scheduled to close on June 30, and the spokeswoman added that the museum would continue to cooperate with the FBI. The federal police did not immediately respond to requests for comment from AFP. According to the New York Timeswhich revealed the operation on Friday, the FBI has been weaving an investigation into this collection since last year.
The works concerned, painted on recovered packaging, were very little known until the opening of the exhibition in February. According to New York Timesone of the works was painted on the back of a packaging on which was written “Align Top of FedEx Label Here“. But the typeface of the inscription was not used by the rapid transport group until 1994, six years after the death of the artist, added the Timesquoting a former FedEx employee.
The FBI seized the works on the basis of a 41-page affidavit stating “false information related to the supposed previous owner of the works”, according to the newspaper. The investigation also showed “attempts to sell the works using false provenance documents, and bank statements showing possible calls to invest in art that is not authentic”.
The owners of the works, an art dealer and a retiree, say Basquiat painted them in 1982, and sold them for $5,000 to a late television producer and screenwriter, Thad Mumford. According to them, he would have kept them in a storage room and forgotten for 30 years. But in the FBI document, an agent specializing in trafficking in works of art, Elizabeth Rivas, specifies that she met Thad Mumford in 2014 and learned that he “had never bought works by Basquiat and that he was not aware of the presence of works by Basquiat in his storage“. The director of the museum, Aaron De Groft, for his part has always maintained that the works were authentic, citing in particular the expertise in 2019 of the collection by a recognized specialist – although deceased – of the Basquiat repertoire.