FBI Seizes Basquiat Works from Orlando Museum of Art

The Federal Bureau of Investigations on June 24 raided the Orlando Museum of Art and carted away twenty-five paintings alleged to have been made by Jean-Michel Basquiat after the works’ authenticity was questioned. The haul comprised the entirety of the works in the show “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat,” which opened at the Florida museum in February and had been slated to run through June 30. The seizure took place while visitors were in the institution, with the museum closing its doors—and the exhibition—shortly thereafter.

According to multiple sources, officials were acting on credible information that at least one and possibly all of the works in the exhibition were forged. The paintings, all on reclaimed cardboard, were said to have been made around 1982 and purchased by now-deceased television writer Thad Mumford for $5,000 and placed in storage, where they remained until being rediscovered in 2012 when the storage unit was sized for nonpayment of rent and its contents auctioned off. However, the New York Times notes that the search warrant utilized by the FBI’s Art Crime Team in the raid contained Mumford’s assertion to a Bureau agent that he had never purchased or stored any works by Basquiat. Additionally, one of the works is made on a flattened box fragment bearing the phrase “Align top of FedEx Shipping Label here,” in a typeface said by a designer who formerly worked for the shipping concern to not have come into use until 1994—six years after Basquiat’s death.

The exhibition was to travel to Italy following its June 30 closure. Representatives of the Orlando Museum of Art have said the institution will continue to cooperate with the authorities. “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,” said museum spokesperson Emilia Bourmas-Fry in a statement. “We continue to see our involvement purely as a fact witness.”


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