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A Bad Week For Basquiat

June 7, 2022
A portrait photograph of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat (credit: J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

Police in New York are still on the lookout for a couple who just decided to walk out of a gallery with a Basquiat. On May 14th, a man and a woman walked into Taglialatella Galleries in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. While their identities are not yet determined, one witness stated that they spoke with an “unknown European accent”. Security video footage shows the couple wandering around the gallery until, at around 5:30 pm, they stumbled upon the office. There, they found a framed print by Jean-Michel Basquiat entitled Dog Leg Study, created in 1983 and on sale for $45,000. They also found a bottle of Maker’s Mark on the shelf.

While confidence is often very disarming, the gallery attendants knew that you don’t just walk out with a framed work under your arm. According to gallery owner Brian Swarts, the attendant “literally pulled the piece from the guy’s hand.” Previous encounters likely prepared the staff for this situation since the same gallery had a similar incident last year. Someone tried to walk out with a small Kaws figurine on display. Though they saved the work from being stolen, the couple made off with the bottle of bourbon, which was only a third full, it seems.

This was the first of several incidents where Basquiat works, or alleged works, were involved over the past few weeks. Of course, there were the revelations surrounding dealings at the Galerie Danieli in Palm Beach, where a €495 Basquiat reproduction was on sale as a genuine for $12 million. But it seems the FBI was very busy in Florida lately, not just in Palm Beach. The FBI also sent agents to Orlando to investigate claims that the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) owns twenty-five works by Basquiat that may be forgeries. According to the alleged provenance, Basquiat sold these works to a screenwriter named Thad Mumford, who lost them in 2012 when the contents of his Los Angeles storage unit were auctioned off.

Experts are divided over the works’ authenticity. Aaron De Groft, OMA’s director, has asserted their authenticity. James Blanco, a handwriting expert, verified the signatures, while professor Jordana Moore Sagesse also attributes the works to Basquiat in her book Reading Basquiat. Most importantly, curator Diego Cortez, who served on the Basquiat estate’s authentication committee, also verified the works. So if they’re fakes, they’re definitely good fakes. Larry Gagosian, Basquiat’s patron, contests the works’ authenticity due to his unfamiliarity with them. Gagosian would probably be a good judge of authenticity since Basquiat’s studio sat on the ground floor below Gagosian’s home in Venice, California. The artist completing twenty-five works on canvas and cardboard completely behind his back is a little unlikely. After Gagosian’s objections, journalists looked further into the works’ allegedly dubious origins. One of the more compelling pieces of evidence against their authenticity is a brand specialist’s opinion regarding one of the works. Untitled (Self-Portrait or Crown Face II) was created on cardboard from a FedEx box, which is not particularly unusual for a work by Basquait. However, the text printed on the original box on the painting’s reverse, as the specialist pointed out, uses a font that FedEx would not use until 1994, six years after Jean-Michel Basquiat’s death.

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