The authenticity of an untitled painting credited to Cuban artist Carlos Alfonzo is in question after some, including a close friend of the artist, noticed peculiarities about the piece as it hung in an exhibit at FIU's Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum.
The piece, on display as part of the Frost's "From Africa to the Americas" exhibit, was one of 24 works by Cuban artists donated to the museum by Jorge Pérez -- the same Pérez whose donation of artwork and cash to the recently opened Pérez Art Museum Miami earned him the naming rights for that museum.
Cesar Trasobares, a Miami artist, friend of the late Alfonzo, and an art adviser who's assisted in authenticating other Alfonzo works, told the Miami Herald that certain things about the painting didn't add up:
The work is dated 1981, a year in which the newly arrived Alfonzo was working odd jobs to survive and "hardly producing any art," Trasobares said. Furthermore, he said, the style of the painting is "incompatible" with the few works Alfonzo did produce in those early years. Nor is the work found on lists of the artist's work, he said.
Trasobares called those inconsistencies to the Frost's attention, and the painting was subsequently removed from the exhibition. The Frost is investigating the painting's origins.
Pérez, meanwhile, appears to stand by the work, saying in a statement that he's shocked by the allegations and noting that none of the visitors to his home, "many of which were well acquainted with the artist," ever noticed anything off about the painting during the 16 years it hung there. He also promised to replace the painting with another Cuban work of art of a similar value or cash if the Alfonzo piece turns out to be a forgery.
The news comes as another blow to Pérez and his Miami art-world dealings, hot on the heels of a highly successful Art Basel week. Pérez Art Museum Miami opened December 4 to wide acclaim, but when the art fairs packed up and left town, art aficionado Rosa de la Cruz unleashed a tirade against the new museum, saying, "PAMM or MAM or whatever it's called is not a contemporary art museum either. The problem with museums in Miami is that they become country clubs. The Miami Herald recently wrote about PAMM: 'Oh, it'll be great because they'll have weddings and bat mitzvahs there.' But museums should not be used as banquet halls."
The Wall Street Journal also offered a bleak assessment of the museum yesterday, calling its assemblage of artwork "a paltry collection" compared to museums in other, smaller cities, with "scarcely a showstopper in the trove."
Much of that work was donated to PAMM by Pérez, whose art-buying expertise is now called into question by the possibility of the fake Alfonzo painting. Art forgery can happen to anyone, the Herald is quick to point out. But in Miami, a town where so many things are not what they seem, the revelation that one of its biggest museum supporters is dealing in forged artwork could have lasting implications for Pérez, PAMM, and Miami's entire institutional arts community. We've learned to be cynical about so much here in South Florida, from fake tans to two-faced politicians. Do we have to add our museums to that list?
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.
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