Florida art museum CEO departs after FBI raid over Basquiat works

[Warm thanks to Peter Jordens and all those who sent us information on this topic; too many to mention.] Here are excerpts from Alyssa Lukpa’s article on the recent scandal surrounding works falsely attributed to Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Orlando Museum of Art (Wall Street Journal).

A Florida art museum parted ways with its chief executive days after the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized 25 paintings that it said may have been falsely presented as works by the 1980s artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Orlando Museum of Art Director and CEO Aaron De Groft no longer works there, according to Cynthia Brumback, chairwoman of the museum board. She said in a statement Tuesday that Mr. De Groft had sent “inappropriate email correspondence” about the authenticity of some of the artworks in question.

[. . .] The FBI raided the Orlando Museum of Art on Friday, seizing 25 paintings that the agency said it suspected were connected to conspiracy and wire fraud. The artworks, from a private collection, were displayed at the museum as part of its “Heroes and Monsters” exhibition, Ms. Bourmas-Fry said. 

The FBI had been investigating the provenance of the paintings since at least 2014, an FBI agent wrote in a search warrant filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The agent said she had learned that the artwork came from a collection that hadn’t previously been documented, which she wrote was “a red flag for possible fraud.”

The owners of the collection said the paintings had been created by Basquiat. The neo-expressionist New York artist died in 1988, leaving behind a trove of frenzied self-portraits that have surged in popularity in recent years.

[. . .] The owners of the paintings under investigation lent the works to the Orlando Museum of Art in April and July 2021, according to the search warrant. They estimated that the paintings, including ones titled “Batman with Top-Hat” and “Red Face & Lizard,” were worth more than $82 million in total. The owners said they had purchased the art from a man named Thaddeus Mumford, who they said bought the paintings around 1982 and then kept them in a storage locker, according to the search warrant.

When an FBI agent interviewed Mr. Mumford in 2014, he said that he had never purchased any Basquiat artwork and that he had never given anyone access to his storage locker. He cooperated with investigators until he died in 2018, according to the search warrant.

The FBI agent wrote in the search warrant that she had uncovered false information in some of the documents alleging the paintings’ provenance. She added that several Basquiat experts believed that the art wasn’t authentic, and that at least one painting had been made on cardboard containing a typeface that wasn’t created until 1994, about six years after Basquiat died.

Ms. Bourmas-Fry, the museum spokeswoman, said the Orlando Museum of Art would continue to cooperate with the authorities. “It is important to note,” she said, “that we still have not been led to believe the Museum has been or is the subject of any investigation.”

For full article, see https://www.wsj.com/articles/florida-art-museum-ceo-departs-days-after-fbi-raid-over-basquiat-works-11656533953

Orlando Museum of Art Director is out following FBI raid of Basquiat show
Tessa Solomon, ARTnews, June 29, 2022

Orlando Museum of Art director fired after FBI raids Basquiat exhibition
Benjamin Sutton, The Art Newspaper, June 29, 2022


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