Updated: Jul 1, 2022
After months of public speculation and internal doubt in the art world, an FBI investigation has resulted in the seizure of all twenty-five Basquiat paintings previously being exhibited at the Orlando Museum of Art.
Law enforcement personnel outside the Orlando Museum of Art on Friday, June 24. Earlier, F.B.I. agents seized 25 paintings said by the museum to be by Jean-Michel Basquiat following questions raised about their authenticity. Credit...Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel, via Associated Press
According to various news sources, over a dozen FBI agents swarmed the scene early Friday morning with a warrant and immediately began taking the artwork off the walls and packing them into their vehicles. All museum patrons were told to leave and the museum was promptly closed to the public. This unexpected raid comes less than a week before OMA was set to transfer the paintings to a museum in Italy.
The scrutiny around the authenticity of the artwork has been ramping up over the past year: first, the New York Times published a report casting doubt on the purportedly lost art, and then it was recently disclosed that the FBI have been investigating the artwork before the OMA exhibit even opened.
The Art and Crime Team, a division of the FBI that deals with fake artwork, issued a subpoena for OMA employees in July 2021, according to the New York Times. This means that there were concerns about the authenticity of the artwork well before those concerns were made public.
The New York Times reported that the affidavit for the search-warrant—which resulted in the raid—stated that the FBI’s investigation had revealed, “false information related to the alleged prior ownership of the paintings.” It also alleged that federal crimes had been committed.
It seems that the investigation was near-conclusive that the paintings are fake and that there was intentional deception enacted by their owners. So far, no museum employees have been arrested.
However, Aaron de Groft, the director, and CEO of OMA, who has insisted that the paintings are genuine, is nominally implicated in the affidavit. After a hired expert witness claimed that her report was being misrepresented and asked for her name not to be associated with the exhibit, de Groft replied in an email,
“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.”
It is unclear if de Groft or any other museum employee committed any crimes—but he could definitely be convicted of acting like a dickhead.
If the art had been genuine, it would have been worth an estimated 100 million dollars.
bridddge will continue to follow the story as it develops