The FBI’s Art Crime Team is investigating the authenticity of 25 Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings on display at the Orlando Museum of Art, according to a federal subpoena and sources who spoke to The New York Times. The owners of the paintings and the director and general manager of the museum, Aaron De Groft, insist on their authenticity. They cite statements from art experts commissioned by the three owners, all of whom have criminal records. De Groft and the owners allege that Basquiat painted the works on cardboard plates and sold them to a deceased screenwriter, who put them in a storage unit. When the contents of the unit were seized in 2012, the current owners purchased the canvases and claim to have celebrated over lunch, during which the original owner gave them a typed poem commemorating Basquiat’s original purchase. A survey of The New York Times, however, questioned the works, as a designer who previously worked for FedEx said the typeface on a canvas was not designed until 1994, six years after Basquiat’s death. Skeptics say the history of the paintings is unlikely, as friends of the original owner say he never typed and showed no interest in contemporary art. If authentic, the paintings are worth around $100 million, according to Putnam Fine Art and Antique Appraisals. Although the precise target of the FBI’s investigation is unclear, the sale of art known to be fraudulent is a federal crime.
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