The FBI seized more than two dozen paintings from an Orlando museum on Friday that was once created by the late great Jean-Michel Basquiat.
According to a federal search warrant, officials have been questioning the authenticity of the Basquiat paintings since their discovery in 2012. The artwork, which was reportedly made in 1982, contains a special FedEx typeface in one of the paintings that weren’t previously used until 1994, six years after Basquiat’s death, ABC News reported.
Thad Mumford, the late owner of the Los Angeles storage locker where the 25 paintings in question were allegedly found said that he never owned any Basquiat art and that the pieces were not in the unit the last time he visited the container.
According to The New York Times, Mumford previously claimed that one of the artworks’ owners “pressured him to sign documents” stating that he owned the rare artwork collection and promised to give him “10% percent interest in the net proceeds,” if the pieces were sold.
Recently, speculation about the paintings resurfaced after the artwork was displayed at the Orlando Museum of Art’s “Heroes and Monsters” exhibition this month.
According to museum employees, more than a dozen F.B.I officials raided the establishment on Friday after presenting a warrant to staffers. Officials quickly closed the museum as government agents boxed up the paintings and loaded them into vehicles.
Emilia Bourmas-Fry, a representative from the museum told The New York Times they were complying with the investigation.
“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,” Bourmas-Fry told the outlet. “We continue to see our involvement purely as a fact witness.”
The exhibit was originally slated to run until June 2023, but after the incident, officials have now decided to end it. Bourmas-Fry said she believed the quick decision was due to a contract discrepancy. The owners were reportedly planning to send the pieces to Italy for another exhibition. However, a special FBI agent argued differently.
“Based on my training and experience, I believe that the significantly advanced date of the international departure of the Mumford Collection from OMA is to avoid further scrutiny of the provenance and authenticity of the works by the public and law enforcement,” the government official said, per ABC News.
Authorities believe there were attempts to sell the paintings using “wire fraud” and “false information related to the alleged prior ownership of the paintings.” If authentic, the Basquiat pieces could be worth around $100 million.
Basquiat, who lived and worked in New York City, rose to fame during the 1980s as part of the Neo-expressionism movement. The legendary artist’s abstract work focused on dichotomies such as wealth versus poverty and integration versus segregation.
The rare paintings displayed at the Orlando Museum of art were allegedly created while Basquiat was living in Los Angeles and are said to be done during his best period. Basquiat died in 1988 from a drug overdose at 27 years old.
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