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Jean-Michel Basquiat

Source: Rose Hartman / Getty

As a resurgence of interest in the works of the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is taking place, a recent grouping of paintings has aroused suspicion and the interest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to reports, the Art Crime Team of the F.B.I. has opened an investigation into the authenticity of 25 paintings on display in an exhibit entitled “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat” at the Orlando Museum of Art. The agency reportedly issued a federal subpoena last July to obtain “any and all” communications between employees of the museum and owners of the paintings. The request also demanded records from the museum’s board of trustees.

The owners of the artwork and the museum’s director and chief executive, Aaron De Groft, maintain that the paintings are genuine. They have stated that the works originated from the time period when Basquiat was working out of the studio attached to the Los Angeles home of Larry Gagosian in 1982. According to De Groft, the artist sold the works to A Different World television screenwriter Thad Mumford, who passed away. The artwork was in storage until 2012 when the unit they were in was seized and sold off for non-payment. A retired salesman, Lee Mangan, and an art dealer, William Force acquired the paintings on foraged cardboard for a sum of $15,000.

An earlier article from the New York Times that shed light on the situation casts an air of doubt on the story of how the works came to be, citing Gagosian who said he “finds the scenario of the story highly unlikely.” Another point of contention lies in the fact that a former FedEx designer claimed that the typeface on the cardboard used for the paintings wasn’t in production until 1994 – six years after the artist’s death. The works are still on display until June 30th, when the exhibit is slated to be sent over to Italy for display there. The F.B.I. had no comment on the investigation when contacted by reporters.