The “Heroes and Monsters” exhibition, which is currently being held at the Californian institution, brings together nearly twenty-five paintings attributed to the Brooklyn-born artist. These would have been made in 1982, which some experts dispute, who see only counterfeits.
The “Heroes and Monsters” exhibition currently being held at the Orlando Museum of Art brings together nearly 25 paintings attributed to Jean-Michel Basquiat. According to the Californian museum, all the paintings were made in late 1982, when the 22-year-old painter was living and working in a studio at the home of his friend and art dealer Larry Gagosian in Venice. .
These paintings, ranging from 10 inches to almost five feet high, made on cardboard recovered from supermarkets, were purchased by screenwriter and television producer Thad Mumford. Winner of an Emmy Award in 1973 for his show Sesame Street he made this acquisition at the time for the modest sum of 5000 dollars.
Three decades during these works disappeared before being dispersed at auction. William Force and Lee Mangin, respectively treasure hunter and financier, found them and bought them for 15,000 dollars and still own them. A scenario that art dealer Larry Gagosian, who hosted the artist for a while, finds it hard to believe. “I find the scenario of this story highly improbable“, he entrusted to the newspaper The New York Times especially with regard to the year of creation of the 25 paintings on cardboard.
An unbearable skepticism for the director of the museum. “I have no doubt that it is about Basquiat. My reputation is also at stake.” he explained to Times. He therefore accompanied his remarks with several professional reports to justify their authenticity. A survey was thus carried out in 2017 by James Blanco, a writing expert. The latter formally identified the signatures of Jean-Michel Basquiat, comparing them to other of his works. To this expertise are added the declarations of the deceased Diego Cortez, who once founded the committee for the authentication of the painter’s works, an institution now dissolved since 2012 following a poor expertise.
But for the director of the museum, the most convincing proof of authentication is none other than a poem written in 1982 by Thad Mumford, which mentions the 25 works produced by the artist and which looks back on the meeting between the two men. . Jean-Michel Basquiat would have, moreover, according to the director, ironed the lines of the text in red oil paint. “The poem is almost like a receipt, it refers to the works, to the inscriptions in the works, to the time“, did he declare. Before concluding : ‘I have absolutely no doubts’.
The same goes for Pierce O’Donell, one of the most influential lawyers in Los Angeles, who owns six of Basquiat’s 25 works. “This poem is so revealing and Basquiat’s initials are on it. It’s autobiographical and you can’t make this stuff up. A forger who wanted to make real Basquiats would paint an extraordinary picture, or maybe two or three, all on large canvases. He wouldn’t just pick up cardboard from a supermarket and create 25 paintings.”he said.
In recent years, the value of Basquiat’s paintings has skyrocketed, even setting some records, such as in 2017, when one of his canvases sold for more than $110.5 million at the auction house. Sotheby’s. If the 25 paintings can be definitively identified, Putnam Fine Art and Antique Appraisals estimates their total value at nearly $100 million. But it’s a difficult verdict to pronounce, which is why the works are currently on display. Indeed, this allows them to acquire visibility for future buyers but also a certain institutional legitimacy explains The New York Times.
To guarantee the authenticity of the paintings, the professionals have turned to the support of the works, cardboard. On the back of one of them, it is possible to see the inscription of a shipping box specifying: “Align top of FedEx shipping label here”. A detail for some, but for the expert Lindon Leader contacted by the Timesthe font of this inscription was not used until 1994, while the museum attributes these works to the year 1992. According to him, the piece of cardboard could not have been produced until 2004.
Concerns that are also emerging among museum staff. According to a person close to the institution,this exhibition raised red flagsamong the Conservatives. Asked about the reaction of his staff this week, museum director Aaron de Groft insisted: “Cardboard is legit. I deeply believe that they are authentic Basquiats.”
These 25 works are not the only canvases to be debated since Basquiat’s work has already been subjected to several counterfeits. As early as 1994, several of his paintings – later considered fakes – were in circulation, accompanied by fake letters of provenance. And just recently, in July, the FBI arrested a man in New York, who was trying to sell artwork he claimed were collaborations between Basquiat and Keith Haring.