Here's why the FBI is investigating if the Orlando Museum of Art's Basquiat exhibit is fake

Here’s why the FBI is investigating if the Orlando Museum of Art’s Basquiat exhibit is fake

The search warrant used to remove the “Heroes and Monsters” exhibit from the Orlando Museum of Art details the reasons for suspicion surrounding the authenticity of the collection.The paintings, which are part of the “Mumford Collection,” were purported to be created in 1982 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Officials explain that the paintings have been under investigation since 2012.”The investigation has revealed false information related to the alleged prior ownership of the paintings, the documents related to ownership, and discrepancies with the number of paintings in the exhibition,” the search warrant reads.Officials say forensic information indicates the cardboard one of the paintings was made on contains a typeface that was created in 1994, which was long after Basquiat had died.Additionally, the document states that several Basquiat experts have said they don’t think the artwork is authentic.The document states that investigators interviewed Thaddeus Mumford, who purportedly was the original owner of the collection and bought it in 1982.In the 2014 interview, investigators say Mumford said:That he never purchased Basquiat artwork.He had visited the storage locker where the art was supposedly found two years earlier and there was no Basquiat artwork in his locker.He denied ever having ownership of Basquiat’s artwork.According to the search warrant, two men, who remain unidentified in the document, called Mumford and his attorney in 2012 and stated that they had bought the contents of Mumford’s storage locker, which contained the Basquiat paintings.When Mumford claimed he never owned such paintings, the men asked him to claim that he did so they could sell the artwork for $1 million. The men advised Mumford to reply “no comment” if he was asked about the history of the paintings.Mumford died in 2018.The search warrant goes on to state that the collection was to end early and be taken to Italy.”I believe 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 document reads.The Orlando Museum of Art’s CEO and director, Aaron De Groft, is out of a job following the FBI’s raid of the museum last week.Joann Walfish, who has previously served as CFO, has been appointed interim COO.”The Orlando Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees is extremely concerned about several issues with regard to the Heroes and Monsters exhibition, including the recent revelation of an inappropriate email correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition,” the museum board chair Cynthia Brumback wrote in a statement. “We have launched an official process to address these matters, as they are inconsistent with the values of this institution, our business standards, and our standards of conduct.”A week after the exhibit opened at the OMA in February, De Groft spoke with WESH and quickly defended the pieces’ authenticity. “We have no doubt. We stand by it. They’re original,” De Groft said. He added: “It’s not the OMA’s job to authenticate art. They came to us authenticated by the top specialists on Basquiat.”The FBI search warrant said an art professor was paid approximately $60,000 to write a report on the collection. But the professor later found out her report was being used publicly with the exhibit. So she sent an email to the museum director saying: “I am in no way authorized to authenticate unknown works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and want no involvement with this show.”The next day, De Groft replied in an email saying: “You want us to put out there you got $60 grand to write this? Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou. You did this not me or anybody else,” he said. “Be quiet now is my best advice. These are real and legit. You know this. You are threatening the wrong people.”WESH 2 has reached out to De Groft but has not heard back.”I think the FBI has done a great job of being able to recover these paintings or get these paintings off the market for the time being,” said Robert Wittman. Wittman is the founder of the FBI Art Crime Team. Now that the FBI has the paintings in hand, he said experts will forensically examine them. “You’re looking for things like paints that may not have existed in 1982, that would have been used at a later date, looking for background cardboard, background canvases that don’t fit the age appropriate time,” he said. Wittman said fakes are detrimental to the art world. “You destroy an artist’s credibility when you do that. You destroy the collector market because once someone is scammed and burned like that they don’t want to be involved in the market anymore. So you lose collectors,” he said. “The movement of fakes, frauds and forgeries in the art world is a terrible situation. I’d say that 75% of the art crime industry in the world, which is a $6 billion industry, deals in frauds, forgeries and fakes. Not theft. It’s frauds, forgeries and fakes.”

The search warrant used to remove the “Heroes and Monsters” exhibit from the Orlando Museum of Art details the reasons for suspicion surrounding the authenticity of the collection.

The paintings, which are part of the “Mumford Collection,” were purported to be created in 1982 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Officials explain that the paintings have been under investigation since 2012.

“The investigation has revealed false information related to the alleged prior ownership of the paintings, the documents related to ownership, and discrepancies with the number of paintings in the exhibition,” the search warrant reads.

Officials say forensic information indicates the cardboard one of the paintings was made on contains a typeface that was created in 1994, which was long after Basquiat had died.

Additionally, the document states that several Basquiat experts have said they don’t think the artwork is authentic.

The document states that investigators interviewed Thaddeus Mumford, who purportedly was the original owner of the collection and bought it in 1982.

In the 2014 interview, investigators say Mumford said:

  1. That he never purchased Basquiat artwork.
  2. He had visited the storage locker where the art was supposedly found two years earlier and there was no Basquiat artwork in his locker.
  3. He denied ever having ownership of Basquiat’s artwork.

According to the search warrant, two men, who remain unidentified in the document, called Mumford and his attorney in 2012 and stated that they had bought the contents of Mumford’s storage locker, which contained the Basquiat paintings.

When Mumford claimed he never owned such paintings, the men asked him to claim that he did so they could sell the artwork for $1 million. The men advised Mumford to reply “no comment” if he was asked about the history of the paintings.

Mumford died in 2018.

The search warrant goes on to state that the collection was to end early and be taken to Italy.

“I believe 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 document reads.

The Orlando Museum of Art’s CEO and director, Aaron De Groft, is out of a job following the FBI’s raid of the museum last week.

Joann Walfish, who has previously served as CFO, has been appointed interim COO.

“The Orlando Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees is extremely concerned about several issues with regard to the Heroes and Monsters exhibition, including the recent revelation of an inappropriate email correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition,” the museum board chair Cynthia Brumback wrote in a statement. “We have launched an official process to address these matters, as they are inconsistent with the values of this institution, our business standards, and our standards of conduct.”

A week after the exhibit opened at the OMA in February, De Groft spoke with WESH and quickly defended the pieces’ authenticity.

“We have no doubt. We stand by it. They’re original,” De Groft said.

He added: “It’s not the OMA’s job to authenticate art. They came to us authenticated by the top specialists on Basquiat.”

The FBI search warrant said an art professor was paid approximately $60,000 to write a report on the collection. But the professor later found out her report was being used publicly with the exhibit. So she sent an email to the museum director saying: “I am in no way authorized to authenticate unknown works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and want no involvement with this show.”

The next day, De Groft replied in an email saying: “You want us to put out there you got $60 grand to write this? Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou. You did this not me or anybody else,” he said. “Be quiet now is my best advice. These are real and legit. You know this. You are threatening the wrong people.”

WESH 2 has reached out to De Groft but has not heard back.

“I think the FBI has done a great job of being able to recover these paintings or get these paintings off the market for the time being,” said Robert Wittman.

Wittman is the founder of the FBI Art Crime Team. Now that the FBI has the paintings in hand, he said experts will forensically examine them.

“You’re looking for things like paints that may not have existed in 1982, that would have been used at a later date, looking for background cardboard, background canvases that don’t fit the age appropriate time,” he said.

Wittman said fakes are detrimental to the art world.

“You destroy an artist’s credibility when you do that. You destroy the collector market because once someone is scammed and burned like that they don’t want to be involved in the market anymore. So you lose collectors,” he said. “The movement of fakes, frauds and forgeries in the art world is a terrible situation. I’d say that 75% of the art crime industry in the world, which is a $6 billion industry, deals in frauds, forgeries and fakes. Not theft. It’s frauds, forgeries and fakes.”

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