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Forged Art? Billionaire Benefactor Doesn’t Think So

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(Courtesy: Frost Art Museum)

(Courtesy: Frost Art Museum)

Gary-Nelson-600x450 Gary Nelson
Gary Nelson has been a member of the CBS4 News team since Septem...
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – With help from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and tennis star Venus Williams, billionaire developer Jorge Perez cut the ribbon Thursday on his newest development, the Doral View complex of luxury rental apartments.

Just last week Perez was cutting the ribbon on the new Perez Art Museum in Miami, named for him because he gave a lot of money and art to it.  But now one Perez donation is under suspicion.

“I was shocked.  I still don’t think it’s a fraudulent piece,” Perez told CBS4’s Gary Nelson Thursday.

The piece he was talking about is a small work on paper, purportedly painted by the late Cuban artist Carlos Alfonzo. Perez gave it, two dozen more paintings and a $250,000 grant to the Frost Art Museum at FIU where it hung for a month.

But the abstract rendering titled “Untitled,” signed and dated 1981, has been taken down – suspected of being a forgery.

The artist Alfonzo arrived on the Mariel boatlift in 1980 and died young, at the age of 40, before his art gained worth.  The piece now in question, according to CBS4’s news partner The Miami Herald, has been declared fake by noted artist Cesar Trasobares who was a confidant of Alfonzo and handled the artist’s estate after he died from complications of HIV in 1991.

Perez told CBS4 News he bought the piece from a prominent, but now closed auction house 17 years ago.

“It was vetted by experts,” Perez said.

In the years the painting was displayed in his home, Perez said, a lot of collectors and people “with a very good eye for art” viewed the work.

“Not once did I hear any question about authenticity,” Perez said.

Perez wonders if questions now might be motivated by art envy of sorts, timed with the opening of the bayfront museum named in his honor.  In any case, the exhibit, “From Africa to the Americas,” at FIU’S Frost Museum no longer displays the suspect assemblage of abstract shapes, even though a photo of it it still occupies a prominent spot in the exhibit’s printed program.

In a statement released Thursday, the university thanked Perez and his wife, Darlene, for their generous contributions and said experts will determine whether the one painting under question is an original or forgery.  The school said the investigation would probably take several months.

“If it’s not authentic, it will be taken out of the museum and I will replace it with another piece of equal value, or cash,” Perez said.  “These things happen,  I don’t think it’s really huge news.”

If authentic, the Alfonzo abstract on paper would be worth about $20,000, according to The Herald.  The Perez’s donated cash and paintings to FIU and the Frost Museum totaling more than a half million dollars in value.  The cash, $250,000, will fund research into Cuban art.

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