In a statement released on August 19, a newly appointed task force at the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) announced that it would “reevaluate all exhibitions” planned by former and recently ousted director Aaron De Groft. The task force was formed to “review oversight procedures for reviewing and approving exhibits,” a trustee said, after an FBI raid that seized 25 paintings falsely claimed to be made by Jean-Michel Basquiat. museum at the end of June.

The reforms, which will be spearheaded by newly appointed Interim Director Luder Whitlock, are a bitter attempt by the disgraced museum to restore credibility following revelations that those in senior leadership positions were responsible for misrepresenting the authenticity of a number of alleged acts. by Basquiat. In response, six major donors have withdrawn support and pledged to the Rollins Art Museum, and the Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation announced that they would migrate a collection of 18th- and 19th-century American paintings (including of John Singer Sargent and Robert Henri) from OMA to Rollins.

Although Cynthia Brumback, chair of OMA’s board of trustees, announced De Groft’s departure days after the FBI raid, she herself has not escaped scrutiny: Prominent figures in Orlando’s art community are calling for her resignation her, including Ena Heller, director of the Rollins Museum of Art, who told her New York Times, “It didn’t start and end with Aaron De Groft,” adding that he “reported to a board that has oversight” and “fiduciary responsibility for that museum.”

Orlando Museum of Art (via Wikimedia Commons)

The museum’s current crisis is the result of a messy, months-long saga that has unfolded largely in the public eye and began with the opening of Heroes and Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat in February of this year. Most of the paintings featured in the exhibition had never been seen in public before. They were said to have been made in 1982 – when Basquiat was just 22 years old and living in a basement studio space under the home of prominent art dealer Larry Gagosian – and were said to have been sold to television writer Thad Mumford, who then, as the story went. , kept them hidden private for three decades. They were then “discovered” by a pair of dealers, who were later revealed to have both served prison terms for drug trafficking under different names.

Almost immediately, questions arose about the paintings’ legitimacy. Gagosian thought the story seemed “too improbable” for him. The paintings had been circulating on the secondary art market for years, and a number of experts and auction houses such as Sotheby’s refused to weigh in on their authenticity. However, other credentialed art world professionals and academics authenticated the paintings as Basquiat, including a handwriting expert, a Basquiat scholar, and a curator who was an early supporter of Basquiat’s career. But the main detail that raised suspicions was the font on the back of a FedEx-produced carton that held what the museum claimed was Basquiat’s work. It was a typeface that had not been used by the company before 1994.

Faced with these red flags, De Groft apparently dismissed them. An FBI investigation began in May and a subpoena was issued. In late June, the paintings were taken by force from the OMA, in a raid that prompted a temporary closure of the museum. Around the time of the raid, it was also revealed that De Groft paid an expert $60,000 to authenticate the paintings; when she raised concerns about the authenticity of some of them, she was allegedly threatened and silenced, although the museum continued to cite her as an authenticator of the works on display.

One of the works seized by the FBI in its raid at the Orlando Museum of Art in June 2022 (photo courtesy of @sallyevansfineart via Instagram)

Among the exhibits now canceled would be those on Jackson Pollock and a group of drawings by Michelangelo. Doubts have already been cast about the authenticity of the works that would have appeared as part of both exhibitions. A third Banksy exhibition, which the artist himself has denounced, has also been removed from the upcoming calendar.

“It’s not just about the Orlando Museum of Art,” Heller told him New York Times, showing that despite the influx of philanthropic support for the Rollins Art Museum in light of OMA’s plight, the debacle had damaged confidence in the entire Orlando museum environment. “It’s about our whole community. Museums operate on public trust and now that trust has been hurt,” she continued. “This is the first time in my 30-year career that some people have come to the museum and the first thing they asked me was, ‘How do you know the art is real?’

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