FBI seizes controversial Basquiat artwork from Florida museum

The FBI raided a Florida art museum on Friday and seized more than two dozen paintings attributed to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat after questions were asked about their authenticity.

Orlando Museum of Art spokeswoman Emilia Bourmas-Fry said in a statement that they are complying with an FBI warrant for access to the Heroes and Monsters exhibit, now owned by the government. She added that none of the museum staff have been arrested.

“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,” said Bourmas-Fry. “We continue to see our commitment only as a factual witness.”

According to a search warrant, federal art crimes investigators have been investigating the 25 paintings since shortly after their discovery in 2012. The controversy gained more attention shortly after the Orlando exhibit opened in February.

Basquiat, who lived and worked in New York City, thrived in the 1980s as part of the Neo-Expressionism movement. The Orlando Museum of Art was the first institution to exhibit pieces said to have been found in an old locker years after Basquiat’s death in 1988 from a drug overdose at the age of 27.

Questions about the authenticity of the artworks arose almost immediately after their discovery. The artwork was said to have been made in 1982, but experts have pointed out that the box used in at least one of the pieces contained a FedEx font that the warrant said was not used until 1994, some six years after Basquiat’s death. Also, television writer Thad Mumford, the owner of the storage room where the artworks were eventually found, told investigators that he had never owned Basquiat art and that the pieces were not in the unit when he last visited. Mumford died in 2018.

Orlando Museum of Art director Aaron De Groft has repeatedly insisted the art is legitimate.

The exhibit was originally scheduled to run until June 2023 in Orlando, but the museum later announced it was ending next week. Bourmas-Fry said the owners of the artworks declined to renew the museum’s contract and planned to send the works to Italy for exhibition.

“Based on my training and experience, I believe that the significantly advanced date of OMA’s Mumford Collection international departure is intended to avoid further scrutiny of the works’ provenance and authenticity by the public and law enforcement agencies,” an FBI special agent wrote in the warrant .

No criminal charges were filed.

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