The museum claims Basquiat was 22 when he first painted several pieces of cardboard in 1982
The FBI is questioning the authenticity of 25 works that one Orlando museum touts as originals by famed artist Basquiat.
As reported by the New York Times, in a federal subpoena to the Orlando Museum of Art, the agency calls for all communication between staffers and the owners of the art pieces “purported to be by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat,” to be turned over.
The museum as well as the owners of this artwork claim Basquiat was 22 when he first painted several pieces of cardboard that he scavenged for in 1982. At the time, he was living and working in a studio beneath the Los Angeles home of art dealer Larry Gagosian.
American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 – 1988), circa 1985. Photo: Rose Hartman/Getty Images
Aaron De Groft, the chief executive of the museum, and the owners of the 25 paintings maintain that Basquiat was preparing new work for a show at Gagosian’s gallery. It is said that the artist, who died in 1988, sold the works for $5,000 to now-deceased television screenwriter Thad Mumford.
Mumford allegedly put the cardboard artworks into a storage unit where they remained, unseen for 30 years. In 2012, when the unit was seized for non-payment, its contents were auctioned off for about $15,000 to new owners William Force, an art and antiques dealer, and Lee Mangin, a retired salesman.
Mumford refers to “25 paintings bringing riches” in a 1982 poem about Basquait, Yahoo reports. Mangin claims the poem, sealed with “JMB” initials, was given to him by Mumford in 2012 after the storage unit auction. The screenwriter died in September 2018.
The paintings are now part of the museum’s “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat” exhibition and are on view through June 30, after which the works leave for exhibition in Italy, according to the report.
The New York Times raised questions about the authenticity of the artworks after a former FedEx designer claimed the company’s typeface appears on a piece of the cardboard and that particular design wasn’t used until 1994 — six years after the artist’s death.
The specific focus of the F.B.I. inquiry is unclear but “the intentional sale of art known to be fake would be a federal crime,” per the report.
If the Basquiat paintings are authentic then they would be worth about $100 million, according to Putnam Fine Art and Antique Appraisals, which assessed them for the owners.
De Groft told The Times in February: “I’ve absolutely no doubt these are Basquiats.”
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