Basquiat Paintings Removed From Orlando Museum in F.B.I. Raid

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the Orlando Museum on Friday, picking up all 25 items that were part of an exhibition about Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life and work, the museum said.

The affidavit filed to secure the investigation order was called the origin story of the collection because it was explained by the owner of the collection and the museum, and stated that there was reason to question the credibility of the work of art.

The New York Times previously reported that the FBI’s art crime team was investigating the authenticity of 25 paintings that the museum said had been created by Basquiat and exhibited for several months.

A museum spokesman said on Friday that the FBI was responding to requests for access to the “Heroes and Monsters” exhibition, which is now owned by the FBI.

“It’s important to note that the museum was or wasn’t made to believe that it was the subject of the investigation,” spokeswoman Emilia Blumas Fry said in an email statement. I mentioned in. “We continue to see our involvement purely as a witness of the facts.”

Basquiat’s exhibition was scheduled to end on June 30, and the work was to be exhibited next in Italy. Museum officials said they would continue to work with the authorities.

More than 12 FBI agents arrived at the museum on Friday morning, according to museum employees. They passed through the front door, presented a warrant, and soon began removing 25 paintings from the walls of the museum. The museum was immediately open to the public as curious visitors gathered outside looking into the currently locked entrance, and FBI agents boxed the paintings and moved them to a waiting vehicle at the museum’s loading dock. It is no longer done.

An FBI spokesman confirmed that a federal investigation warrant had been executed at the museum on Friday and said an investigation by the art crime team was underway.

The unsealed search warrant reviewed by the Times was signed by the judge on Thursday. The 41-page affidavit was issued on the basis of two possible crimes: conspiracy and telegraph fraud. In the document, the FBI said it had investigated the exhibition and attempted to sell 25 paintings, and said the investigation revealed, among other things, “misinformation about suspected pre-ownership of paintings.”

Authorities also said in their investigation that “there are attempts to sell paintings using fake provenance, and bank records indicate the possibility of soliciting investment in non-genuine works of art.” Said.

The paintings in the “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat” exhibition were said to have been recovered from the Los Angeles vault in 2012 by the museum and its owners. The work was rarely seen before the show’s February opening.

A Times report published that month cast doubt on their credibility. A paperboard shipping box with a typeface that a designer working at Federal Express said wasn’t used until 1994, with instructions to “align the top of the FedEx shipping label here” in one of the artworks. Notice that it is drawn on the back of. Six years have passed since Basquiat’s death.

The affidavit of the investigation warrant, signed by FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Rivas, states: It casts doubt on the authenticity of at least one piece. “

The owner of the painting, and Aaron de Groft, director and chief executive officer of the Orlando Museum of Art, all claim that the work is genuine. No one immediately returned a request for comment on the seizure of the painting.

The work done by both De Groft and the owner on a piece of paperboard cleaned was prepared by Basquiat living in a studio under the Los Angeles home of art gallery Larry Gagosian in late 1982. A show at the Gagosian Gallery that says it took place when he was. Basquiat sold the work to Thad Mumford, a television screenwriter who died for $ 5,000, put it in a storage unit, and apparently forgot it for 30 years. Until the contents of the unit were confiscated due to rent delinquency and auctioned in 2012. .. (Gagosian says, “I don’t think the story scenario is very likely.”)

In an affidavit of an investigation warrant, Rivas interviewed Manford in 2014: “Manford had never purchased Basquiat artwork and was unaware that Basquiat artwork was in a storage locker.” Said.

Manford also told Rivas that one of the artwork’s owners claimed to own the collection and “pressured him to sign the document.” With net income. ”

According to the affidavit, in 2017, a year before his death, Manford signed the declaration in the presence of a federal representative. Did he get or buy the painting? “

The painting was purchased for about $ 15,000 by art and antique dealer William Force and retired salesman Leo Manganese. Attorney Pierce O’Donnell later hired some experts who were interested in six of the 25 works and said the works looked real.

One of the hired experts, identified only as “Expert-2” in the affidavit, told the FBI that her work was mistakenly characterized by the owner of the painting. Associate Professor Jordana Muasages of the University of Maryland confirmed by email that she was “Expert 2”. According to her affidavit, after $ 60,000 was paid for her work, Saggese later contacted the museum and asked that her name was not associated with the exhibition at all. According to her affidavit, the museum director, De Groft, replied to her by email. She got it. noisy. You took the money. Stop being more holy than you. De Groft claimed that the painting was genuine and threatened to share the details of his payment with her employer. She “do your studies and stay on a limited path.”

The Basquiat Complex Certification Committee was disbanded in 2012 when many artist estates stopped attempting to certify their works due to costly proceedings.

Basquiat paintings are worth about $ 100 million in authenticity, according to Putnam art and antiques ratings that evaluated them for their owners. The owner said in a previous interview that he was trying to sell his work.

The deliberate sale of art known to be fake is a federal crime.

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