The Orlando Museum of Art has surrendered its alleged $100 million Basquiat show to the FBI.
“Today, we complied with a request from the FBI for access to the Heroes and Monsters exhibit, which is now in their possession. 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. Though the Heroes and Monsters exhibit was set to close on June 30, we will continue to cooperate, should there ever be any future requests. We continue to see our involvement purely as a fact witness. Given the sensitivities, we are not able to comment further. We hope to learn more soon.”– EMILIA BOURMAS-FRY, ORLANDO MUSEUM OF ART
On Friday, June 24th, FBI agents seized all 25 pieces of art from the museum that were part of the exhibition. An affidavit for the search warrant claims that the origin of the collection raised concerns with the federal agency on the authenticity of the paintings, and claimed that there were two possible crimes to be investigated; conspiracy and wire fraud.
The 41-page affidavit also suggests that the investigation, which was launched back in May, has uncovered “false information related to the alleged prior ownership of the paintings.” The Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Thaddeus Mumford, Jr. Venice Collection exhibit, was allegedly comprised of long-lost paintings that had been uncovered in a Californian storage unit after 30 years of neglect, that were liberated by someone who purchased the contents of the storage unit for $15,000 at auction.
A report published by The New York Times questioned the veracity of the exhibition back in March, claiming that markings on the cardboard on one of the paintings was created on, dated the piece to a time after Basquiat’s death in 1988. In fact, the FBI has since agreed that forensic evidence has revealed that the specific cardboard in that piece is likely from 1994 due to the specific typeface used.
Museum director, Aaron De Groft, clapped back at the Times following their original story, saying, “Our job is not to authenticate art. Our job is to bring the best art to the people of Orlando and Orange County.” Though the museum did work with a handful of handwriting experts and agencies who validated the museum’s claims prior to exhibition.
But further doubt was cast on the whole debacle when it was shared that the owner of that aforementioned storage locker, TV writer Thad Mumford, had signed a statement for the FBI in 2017 stating that he had never met Basquiat or ever purchased art from him and shared that he was pressured into signing documents by the new owners (William Force, Lee Mangin, and Pierce O’Donnell) of the collection to help verify their origin story.
The sale of art that is known to be fake, as authentic pieces, with the intention of financial gain, is a federal crime, but at this time, the museum is not the subject of the FBI’s Art Crime Team investigation and no arrests have been made.
The exhibition was originally meant to be on display through 2023, but recently the museum shared that the contract with the owners really only guaranteed them access to the collection through June 30th, as an intended extension for the exhibit was denied so it could be toured to Italy for a new exhibition.