FBI agents confiscated all 25 works in a Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition in Florida after asking questions about their authenticity, the museum displaying them said Saturday.
The Orlando Museum of Art said it has honored a request for access to works in the Heroes and Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit and the paintings are now in the hands of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“It is important to note that we have still not been led to believe that the museum was or is the subject of an investigation,” museum spokeswoman Emilia Bourmas-Fry said in an email to AFP.
The exhibition was scheduled to close on June 30th. The museum said it will continue to work together. The FBI did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.
The paintings were made on looted pieces of cardboard and were largely invisible until the start of this exhibition in February, the New York Times reported in an article Friday about the works’ seizure.
The Times said it learned last month that one of the works was painted on the back of a shipping box that read “Align top of FedEx shipping label here.”
But the instructions were in a typeface not used until 1994, six years after the artist’s death, the newspaper said, citing a designer who worked for Federal Express.
The FBI seized the paintings with an arrest warrant based on a 41-page affidavit that said the agency’s investigation uncovered “false information related to alleged past ownership of the paintings,” according to the Times.
The investigation also found “attempts to sell the paintings under false provenance and bank records show a possible solicitation of investment in artworks that are not authentic”.
The owners of the works, as well as the museum’s director Aaron De Groft, say Basquiat made these paintings in 1982 and sold them for $5,000 to a now-deceased TV screenwriter named Thad Mumford, according to the Times. They said Mumford placed them in a storage unit and apparently forgot about them for 30 years.
But in the affidavit accompanying the search warrant, FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Rivas states that she interviewed Mumford in 2014 and learned that “Mumford had never purchased Basquiat artwork and was unaware that there was Basquiat artwork in his locker ‘ said the Times.
If the paintings are authentic, they would be worth around $100 million, she added, citing art experts.
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