Fake Basquiat art on display in Orlando makes visitors question their trust of museums nationwide

As news spreads about a man pleading guilty to forging paintings that went on display at the Orlando Museum of Art, some people FOX 35 News spoke with said they are beginning to have doubts about art museums as a whole.

The Orlando Museum of Art put 25 pieces of art on display, said to have been made by famous painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. The paintings came with a whole backstory and a list of previous owners. They were said to have been discovered in a forgotten storage facility and unveiled publicly at this museum for the first time last year, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Dernika and Derian David, both art students at UCF, said they saw the exhibit while it was still on display. They were not previously aware of the FBI investigation into the artwork.

"It was very nice," said Derian David.

"Maybe we just thought it was nice because we thought it was legitimate," added Dernika David.

"It makes you question if other museums are doing that," said Derian.

Art authenticators and appraisers told FOX 35 News that normally art collections of this caliber have a governing body that helps verify whether artwork is real.  Basquiat’s disbanded in 2012.  

According to the FBI, the man who admitted to helping forge the artwork also said he faked a list of previous owners. 

RELATED: Man admits to helping make, sell fake Basquiat paintings seized from Orlando Museum of Art: FBI

Jason Burrell, the Assistant Director of UCF’s School of Visual Arts and Design, said that typically there is also a forensic evaluation of the art.

"That seems to have lapsed in this case," said Burrell. But, that there were not as many verifications as you’d like was also a clue that helped unravel the situation." 

One expert told FOX 35 News over the phone, he had a hunch the paintings were fake because a collection of that caliber would have been in more famous museums like the Met or the Art Institute of Chicago, not necessarily in Orlando. Derian and Dernika David said they considered the same thing. 

"I was like, driving down Mills thinking, ‘This is too good to be true. There’s no way they have this person’s art here in the middle of Mills like that," said Derian.

"Yeah, it was nice. Like, ‘Woah, Orlando! This is good exposure for the museum.’ Which is probably what they were going for," said Dernika.

In a statement, the Orlando Museum of Art told FOX 35 News that it will be taking action to support employees impacted by the exhibition and the investigation, adopting new personnel policies, getting governance training for the board, and working with the American Alliance of Museums to repair its standing. 

"This doesn’t puncture the whole institution, it keeps us on guard. It keeps us expecting more of our institutions," said Burrell. "There’s a system of trust, a system of valuation, re-evaluation. Insurance companies, professionals’ lives, and art historians – within and outside the institutions – research artwork constantly. Scientific tools available to us today all bring us to a further and greater understanding."

The Orlando Museum of Art also said that when the DOJ’s investigation is wrapped up, it’ll share more of its side of the story in all this.