ORLANDO, Florida. – County, city and art community leaders are calling for transparency after the Orlando Museum of Art came under fire in a recent raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In an emailed statement sent earlier this week, the Orlando Museum of Art announced that Aaron De Groft “effective immediately” would no longer be its CEO and director.
It was unclear whether De Groft resigned or was fired.
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The announcement came after the FBI raided the museum’s Basquiat “Heroes and Monsters” exhibit in late June. 25 works of art – which the museum says were created by Jean-Michele Basquiat – have been removed by federal agents.
Museum officials said they complied with FBI requests, although the museum has no reason to believe he was under investigation – instead acting as a fact witness for the police.
“They removed these photos because it appears they are fake. They want to take them off the market, so no one is trying to sell these photos later,” Chadd Scott said.
Scott is an artistic contributor who has written for publications like Forbes for four years. He attended the exhibit’s opening night, which drew thousands to central Florida to view pieces advertised as a rare find.
“He is the most influential artist this country has ever produced. At auction, his painting would be valued at over $200 million,” Scott said.
According to a search warrant, federal art crime investigators investigated the 25 paintings shortly after their discovery in 2012. The controversy gained more attention soon after the Orlando exhibit opened in February.
The Orlando Museum of Art was the first institution to display pieces believed to have been found in an old storage locker years after Basquiat died in 1988 of a drug overdose at age 27.
Questions about the authenticity of the artwork arose almost immediately after their discovery. The artwork is believed to have been made in 1982, but experts have pointed out that the cardboard used in at least one of the pieces included a FedEx typeface that was not used until 1994, about six years after Basquiat’s death. according to the mandate.
TV writer Thad Mumford, the owner of the storage locker where the art was eventually found, also told investigators he had never owned any Basquiat art and the pieces were not in storage. unit the last time he surrendered. Mumford died in 2018.
Orlando Museum of Art director Aaron De Groft has repeatedly insisted that the art is legit.
In February, De Groft sent a statement supporting his claims.
Investigators, however, noted an exchange of emails between De Groft and an art teacher hired to authenticate the work.
She wrote to Aaron De Groft, saying, “I am in no way authorized to authenticate unknown works by Jean-Michele Basquiat and I want no involvement with this show.”
De Groft in an email replied, “You want us to say you have $60,000 to write this? So okay. Shut up.” He then went on to say, “Shut up now, that’s my best advice. These are real and legitimate. You know that. You are threatening the wrong people. Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.
News 6 reached out to De Groft for comment by phone and email, but did not hear back.
Several community leaders told News 6 that the Orlando Museum of Art needed to act quickly because of the FBI raid affecting public trust.
Steve Kahn, who is the founder and executive director of Snap! Orlando, a downtown gallery, said “”People are starting to ask for their tickets to be refunded for the opening, you know, it’s like we’ve been duped. It definitely sets us back and all the effort that every arts organization tries to put in here, so it’s just not a great look for the whole world.
News 6 also spoke with Matt Brewer, CEO of the Central Florida Foundation. He said: “I hope the museum and the rest of its management publish the story as soon as possible. This transparency is the only thing that will attract people and engage them in the future of museums.
Terry Olson, of Orange County Arts and Cultural Affairs, said his department approved a $155,000 grant for the museum.
The Basquiat paintings mentioned in the application could affect future funding, according to Olson.
“No, we’re not getting the money back,” Olson said. “And certainly what happens this year may affect their score for next year, although it is the museum institution and not an individual.”
While the exhibit was scheduled to end on June 30, museum officials said they would continue to cooperate with the FBI in the event of further requests.
No charges have yet been filed in this case.
We contacted the Orlando Museum of Art several times for feedback, but received no response.
Check back with News 6 for further updates.
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