Orlando Art Museum Is ‘Reevaluating All Exhibits’ Amid FBI Raid

In a statement issued on August 19, a newly appointed task force at the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) announced that it would “re-evaluate all exhibitions” planned by recently ousted former director Aaron De Groft. The task force was formed to “examine oversight procedures for the review and approval of exhibits,” a trustee said, after an FBI raid in which confiscate 25 paintings falsely believed to have been made by Jean-Michel Basquiat. the museum at the end of June.

The renovations, which will be handled by new interim director Luder Whitlock, are an anxious attempt by the disgraced museum to restore credibility after revelations that senior leadership were responsible for allegedly misrepresenting the authenticity of a number of works . by Basquiat In response, six key donors have withdrawn their support and pledged to donate to the Rollins Art Museum, and the Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation announced they would migrate a collection of 18th- and 19th-century American paintings (including John Singer’s). Sargent and Robert Henri) from OMA to Rollins.

Although Cynthia Brumback, chair of OMA’s board of directors, announced De Groft’s removal days after the FBI raid, she herself has not escaped scrutiny: leading figures in the art communities of ‘Orlando are calling for his resignation, including Ena Heller, director of the Rollins Museum of Art, who said the New York news, “This did not begin and end with Aaron De Groft,” adding that he “reported to a board that he has oversight” and “fiduciary responsibility for this museum.”

The 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 this year. Most of the paintings in the exhibition had never been seen publicly. Reportedly made in 1982, when Basquiat was just 22 years old and living in a basement studio space under the home of pre-eminent art dealer Larry Gagosian, they were said to have been sold at television writer Thad Mumford, who then, as the story went. , kept them hidden in private for three decades. They were then “discovered” by a duo of drug dealers who were later revealed to have both served prison time for drug trafficking offenses under other names.

Almost immediately, questions arose about the paintings’ legitimacy. Gagosian opined that the story seemed “highly improbable”. The paintings had been floating around the secondary art market for years, with various experts and auction houses such as Sotheby’s refusing to weigh in on their authenticity. However, other reputable art professionals and academics verified the paintings as Basquiat, including a handwriting expert, a Basquiat scholar, and a curator who was an early advocate of Basquiat’s career. But the main detail that raised suspicion was the font on the back of a piece of FedEx-made cardboard that the museum claimed was Basquiat’s work. It was a typeface that the company had not used before 1994.

Faced with these red flags, De Groft seems to have dismissed them. An FBI investigation was launched in May and a subpoena was issued. At the end of June, the paintings were forcibly removed by the OMA, in a raid that brought the museum to a temporary halt. 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 June 2022 raid at the Orlando Museum of Art (photo courtesy of @sallyevansfineart via Instagram)

Among the exhibits that have now been canceled were one on Jackson Pollock and a set of drawings by Michelangelo. The authenticity of the works that would have been shown as part of both exhibitions has now been questioned. A third exhibition on Banksy has also been withdrawn from the upcoming calendar, which the artist himself has denounced.

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

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