The Orlando Museum of Art’s Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit has been a focus of nationwide fascination since it was announced. The suddenly uncovered paintings were a godsend to longtime fans of the painter, a coup for the Orlando museum and a massive win for the museum’s director.
All of that soured quickly after the exhibit was first revealed. A report in the New York Times called the painting’s authenticity into question, laying out the unlikely story of their discovery and citing an expert who questioned the cardboard canvases that the paintings were done on.
Showing fake art isn’t necessarily a crime, just a little embarrassing for the museum curators and authenticators. Selling fake art is fraud, though, and that appears to have piqued the FBI’s interest in OMA’s “Heroes and Monsters” exhibit.
The Times reported on an FBI subpoena seeking “any and all” messages between museum employees and the owners of the paintings “purported to be by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.” They also asked for every communication between the museum and its art world experts as messages from the museum’s board of trustees.
OMA leadership have maintained that the paintings are authentic and they did their due diligence in making sure they were legitimate.
“We diligently undertook a very rigorous process of research and evaluation before opening this exhibit,” the museum said following the initial report on the exhibit. “The art has been fully authenticated by credible sources, including the person who led the Basquiat estate authentication committee; signed off by leading Basquiat historians, forensic professionals and handwriting experts. This is a regarded industry standard of evaluation and was followed intricately in our planning for this exhibit.”