The Orlando Museum of Art has released a plan to recover from a scandal surrounding a show of contested Basquiat paintings that spurred the firing of its director.
According to a statement from the museum, the board and staff are currently “reevaluating all exhibitions planned” by the former director and CEO, Aaron De Groft. The museum has canceled the next three exhibitions planned by De Groft, who was fired by the board of trustees on June 28, four days after the FBI seized the contents of “Heroes and Monsters,” an exhibition of 25 painted slabs of cardboard attributed to Basquiat.
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De Groft adamantly maintained that Basquiat created the works despite mounting challenges to their credibility. A New York Times article identified a FedEx typeface on a piece of cardboard in the show that was not created until 1994, six years after Basquiat’s death.
Additionally, the OMA board has formed a task force led by museum trustees Mark Elliott and Nancy Wolf. The task force is “focused on reviewing Museum policies and procedures designed to help vet exhibitions.”
“The Task Force has engaged an independent outside law firm to assist with examining oversight procedures for the review and approval process of exhibitions,” Elliott said in a statement. “We will also seek to identify ways to strengthen stewardship of OMA’s expanding permanent collection.”
Meanwhile, Luder Whitlock, former director of the Orlando-based CNL Charitable Foundation, has been appointed interim director.
De Groft and the paintings’ owners said they were created around 1982 by Basquiat while he was living and working in a Los Angeles studio space run by Larry Gagosian. Basquiat allegedly sold the works directly to now-deceased television writer Thad Mumford for $5,000, who placed them in a storage unit, where they remained until the contents were seized for nonpayment of rent and auctioned off.
The FBI affidavit, however, quoted an interview between a member of the Art Crime Team and Mumford, who claimed to have never met Basquiat. The affidavit also shared a threatening email correspondence between De Groft and one of the experts he commissioned to authenticate the paintings, Jordana Moore Saggese, a professor of art at the University of Maryland. When Saggese, who was paid $60,000 in compensation for her report, later requested her name not be affiliated with the exhibition, De Groft responded: “You want us to put out there you got $60 grand to write this? Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou.”
The unraveling of the Basquiat exhibition has created a crisis at the OMA, with its reputation and philanthropic backing at risk. According to the New York Times, a half dozen OMA donors are considering shifting their financial support to the nearby Rollins Museum of Art, while the Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation has announced plans to move its prized collection of of 18th- and 19th-century American paintings to the Rollins.
With Whitlock’s appointment—the press release refers to his “steady command”—the OMA is attempting to chart a future beyond the controversy.
“We are taking some pretty definite steps,” Whitlock said in a statement. “We want to put the past behind us.”