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Director of Orlando Museum of Art Terminated Days After FBI Raids Basquiat Exhibition

Aaron De Groft was terminated from his position as Director and CEO at the Orlando Museum of Art after months of public conjecture and a high-profile FBI investigation over the authenticity of the museum's Basquiat exhibit. Last Friday, the FBI even seized all twenty-five of the purported Basquiat paintings.

Honestly though, we all knew somebody was getting fired after this.

Aaron De Groft had insisted that works shown in the Orlando museum’s Basquiat exhibit were authentic.Credit...Melanie Metz for The New York Times

Ever since the publication of a New York Times article in February of this year, the veracity of the Basquiat paintings has been hotly contested. The article asserted that a FedEx font found on one of the cardboard-canvases could not have existed before 1994, which shrouded the exhibit in doubt—because the paintings were allegedly all created by Basquiat in 1982. Since that initial report, even more evidence has come to light that proves the artwork’s fraudulence. In 2014, an FBI agent interviewed the original owner of the paintings, Thad Mumford, who told her, “Mumford never purchased Basquiat artwork and was unaware of any Basquiat artwork being in his storage locker.” He also explained that he had been “pressured” to sign documents that declared him as the owner, which would effectively authenticate the artwork.

Regardless of this, De Groft released multiple statements insisting that that the paintings are genuine. Earlier this year De Groft told WESH 2 news: “We have no doubt, we stand by it, they’re original.”

Later, that same month, he made a telling statement to Orlando Weekly: “Our job is not to authenticate art... our job is to bring the best art to the people of Orlando and Orange County.”

According to the New York Times, De Groft told all museum employees that they would be terminated if they spoke to the media about the twenty-five Basquiat paintings.

And recently, it was revealed in the FBI’s affidavit that De Groft had told an art expert, who felt that the museum had misrepresented her statements on the artwork and manufactured a fake interview with her, to “shut up”, “stop acting holier than thou”, and to “stay in your limited academic lane”. He also reportedly threatened to tell her employer that she accepted sixty-thousand to assess the paintings.

OMA’s Board of Trustee’s cited this email exchange in their statement regarding his termination—along with “several issues” related to the Basquiat exhibition.

Below is part of the Board’s statement:

“The Orlando Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees is extremely concerned about several issues with regard to the Heroes and Monsters exhibition, including the recent revelation of an inappropriate e-mail correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition.

We have launched an official process to address these matters, as they are inconsistent with the values of this institution, our business standards, and our standards of conduct. Effective immediately, Aaron De Groft is no longer Director and CEO of Orlando Museum of Art.”

Links to bridddge’s past coverage of the OMA Basquiat art scandal:

FBI Seizes Twenty-Five (Very Likely) Fraudulent Basquiat Paintings from Orlando Museum

Orlando Museum Accused of Exhibiting Twenty-Five Fraudulent Basquiat Paintings

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