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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Professor Involved in Contested Basquiats Seized by FBI Speaks Out – ARTnews.com

“Those claims are false,” she wrote in a statement published by The Baltimore Sun Sunday, “Their publication caused me substantial reputational damage and emotional distress. Nowhere in the reports did I provide the positive or definitive attribution to Basquiat of any of the [Orlando Museum of Art] works.”

The works in question were featured in the Orland Museum of Art’s show “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat” and seized during an F.B.I. raid in late June. The F.B.I.’s Art Crime Team had been investigating the authenticity of the works since their supposed discovery in a storage unit in Los Angeles in 2012. The investigation found “false information relating to the alleged prior ownership of the paintings,” according to a 41-page affidavit for the search warrant obtained by the New York Times.

Saggese, currently a professor at the University of Maryland and a noted Basquiat expert, said she had been hired by the collection’s owners in 2017 to provide her professional opinion of the works. To sweeten the deal, Saggese wrote, the attorneys told her that “after the artwork sold for millions of dollars, [he] would fund scholarships.” She agreed to take a preliminary look at the works via photos.

“I rejected nine works outright,” Saggese wrote. “I concluded that 11 works could be Basquiat’s based solely on a review of photographs.” she wrote.

Saggese’s report, while favorable towards a number of works, was careful to say its findings are preliminary. She never examined the paintings in person.

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The front entrance of the Orlando

According to the collection’s owners, Basquiat allegedly sold the works directly to television screenwriter Thaddeus Quentin Mumford Jr., who  left them in a storage unit for 25 years, until he failed to pay rent on the unit and its contents were auctioned off in 2012.

The collection was bought by art and antiquities dealer William Force and his financier, Lee Mangin, for around $15,000. An interest in six of the 25 paintings was bought by Los Angeles trial lawyer Pierce O’Donnell.

Saggese said she was told this story and believed it. Unbeknownst to her at the time, Mumford refused to confirm the story and signed an affadavit to the FBI saying that not only had he never bought paintings by Basquiat, he had never met the artist. Mumford died in 2018.

To Saggese’s surprise, wording from her report was provided to the New York Times and also published in the OMA exhibition catalogue.

When Saggese tried to get her name taken off the exhibition materials, Aaron De Groft, then the director of OMA “bullied and insulted me and even sought to blackmail me,” she wrote.

In an email obtained by the New York Times, De Groft threatened to reveal how much she had been paid for her report.

“You want us to put out there you got $60 grand to write this? Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou,” he wrote. “Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.”

De Groft was fired by the OMA days after the FBI raid in June.

“For several months, my name and reputation have been dragged into the public scandal surrounding the discredited Basquiat works previously on display at the Orlando Museum of Art,” she wrote. “I wish to set the record straight.”

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