ORLANDO, Fla. – The FBI raided a Florida art museum on June 24 and seized more than two dozen paintings attributed to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat following questions about their authenticity. Orlando Museum of Art spokeswoman Emilia Bourmas-Fry said in a statement that they were complying with a warrant from the FBI for access to the Heroes and Monsters exhibit, which is now in the government’s possession. She added that no one on the museum’s staff has been arrested.
“It is important to note that we still have not been led to believe the Museum has been or is the subject of any investigation,” Bourmas-Fry said. “We continue to see our involvement purely as a fact witness.”
According to a search warrant, federal art crimes investigators have been looking into the 25 paintings since shortly after their discovery in 2012. The controversy gained more attention shortly after the Orlando exhibit opened in February.
Basquiat, who lived and worked in New York City, found success in the 1980s as part of the Neo-expressionism movement. The Orlando Museum of Art was the first institution to display pieces said to have been found in an old storage locker years after Basquiat’s 1988 death from a drug overdose at age 27.
Questions about the artworks’ authenticity arose almost immediately after their discovery. The artwork was purportedly made in 1982, but experts have pointed out that the cardboard used in at least one of the pieces included a FedEx typeface that wasn’t used until 1994, about six years after Basquiat died, according to the warrant. Also, television writer Thad Mumford, the owner of the storage locker where the art was eventually found, told investigators that he had never owned any Basquiat art and that the pieces were not in the unit the last time he had visited. Mumford died in 2018.
Orlando Museum of Art director Aaron De Groft has repeatedly insisted that the art is legitimate.
The exhibit was originally publicized to run through June 2023 in Orlando, but the museum later announced it was ending next week. Bourmas-Fry said the art’s owners declined to extend the museum’s contract and were planning to send the works to Italy for exhibition.
“Based on my training and experience, I believe that the significantly advanced date of the international departure of the Mumford Collection from OMA is to avoid further scrutiny of the provenance and authenticity of the works by the public and law enforcement,” an FBI special agent wrote in the warrant request.
No criminal charges have been filed.
By DAVID FISCHER, Associated Press
On June 28, the Board of Trustees of the Orlando Museum of Art removed Aaron De Groft from his post. The institution’s chief financial officer, Joann Walfish, will serve as interim director
Auction Central News International contributed to this report.
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