Basquiat paintings seized from Orlando museum in FBI raid – The New York Times

On Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the Orlando Art Museum, seizing all 25 works that were part of an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the museum said.

In a written application filed for a search warrant, the origin story of the collection, as described by its owners and the museum, is questioned, noting that there is reason to doubt the authenticity of the artwork.

The New York Times previously reported that an FBI art crimes team was investigating the authenticity of 25 paintings that the museum says were created by Basquiat and have been on display there for months.

A spokeswoman for the museum said Friday that it has complied with an FBI request for access to its “Heroes and Monsters” exhibit, and that the exhibit is now in the possession of the FBI.

“It is important to note that we have not yet been led to believe that the museum has been or is the subject of any investigation,” spokeswoman Emilia Burmas-Fry said in an emailed statement. “We continue to view our participation solely as a witness to the facts.”

The Basquiat exhibition was to close on June 30, with the following works to be exhibited in Italy. Museum staff said they would continue to cooperate with the authorities.

More than a dozen FBI agents arrived at the museum on Friday morning, according to museum staff. They entered its front doors, produced a warrant, and then immediately began removing 25 paintings from the walls of the museum. The museum was quickly closed to the public as curious visitors peeked through the now-locked entrance and gathered outside, while FBI agents packed the paintings into boxes and moved them to waiting vehicles at the museum’s loading dock.

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed that a federal search warrant was executed at the museum on Friday and said the investigation is ongoing.

A printed search warrant seen by The Times was signed by a judge on Thursday. The 41-page written document was issued on the basis that two possible crimes could have occurred: conspiracy and wire fraud. In the documents, the FBI said it was investigating the exhibition and the attempted sale of 25 paintings, and said its investigation uncovered, among other things, “false information related to alleged prior ownership of the paintings.”

Authorities also said their investigation had uncovered “attempts to sell paintings using false provenance, and bank records show possible investment in works of art that are not genuine.”

The paintings from the Heroes and Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition were removed from storage in Los Angeles in 2012, according to museum officials and their owners. Until the February opening of the exhibition, almost no one had seen these works.

A Times report published the same month raised questions about their authenticity. He noted that one of the pieces of art was painted on the back of a cardboard shipping box with instructions to “Align the top of the FedEx shipping label here” in a typeface that, according to a designer at Federal Express, was not used until 1994. six years after Basquiat’s death.

A search warrant affidavit signed by Elisabeth Rivas, FBI Special Agent, notes: “Forensic information indicates that the cardboard on which one painting was made contains typeface created in 1994, after Basquiat’s death. thereby calling into question the authenticity of at least one work.”

The owners of the paintings, as well as the director and chief executive officer of the Orlando Museum, Aaron de Groft, claim that the works are genuine. No one immediately responded to a request for comment on the removal of the paintings.

Both De Groft and the owners said the works, done on the pieces of cardboard, were made by Basquiat in late 1982 while he was living and working in a studio under art dealer Larry Gagosian’s Los Angeles home and preparing for an exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery. They said Basquiat sold the works for $5,000 to the late television writer Thad Mumford, who placed them in storage and apparently forgot about them for 30 years—until the contents of the storage were confiscated for non-payment of rent and sold at auction in 2012. (Gagosian said he “finds the scenario of this story extremely unlikely.”)

In an affidavit for a search warrant, Rivas stated that she interviewed Mumford in 2014 and learned that “Mumford never bought Basquiat’s art and was unaware of any Basquiat art in his locker.”

Mumford also told Rivas that one of the art owners “forced him to sign paperwork”, claiming he owns the collection, which would help establish the authenticity of the paintings, and even offered to give him “10% interest” by email. in net income.

The affidavit states that in 2017, a year before his death, Mumford signed a statement in the presence of federal agents stating that “never in the 1980s or at any other time did I meet Jean-Michel Basquiat and have I ever acquired any of his paintings.

The paintings were purchased for approximately $15,000 by William Force, an art and antiques dealer, and Leo Mangan, a retired salesman. Lawyer Piers O’Donnell later bought a stake in six of the 25 works and hired several experts who said the works looked genuine.

One of these hired experts, identified only as “Expert 2″ in the affidavit, told the FBI that her work had been misrepresented by the owners of the paintings. After she was paid $60,000, the affidavit notes, the expert later contacted the museum to ask that her name not be associated with the exhibit at all. It said museum director De Groft emailed her: “Do you want us to write that you received $60,000 to write this? OK then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than you.” De Groft, still insisting that the paintings were genuine, then threatened to share the details of this payment with her employer: “Go about your academic business and stay in your limited lane.”

The Basquiat Estate Authentication Committee was dissolved in 2012 when many artists’ estates stopped trying to authenticate works due to costly litigation.

If the Basquiat paintings were genuine, they would be worth about $100 million, according to Putnam Fine Art and Antique Appraisals, who valued them for owners. In previous interviews, the owners said they were trying to sell the work.

It is a federal crime to intentionally sell art that is known to be fake.

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