After Basquiat Raid, Orlando Museum Faces Crisis of Credibility

Orlando, Florida. — The Orlando Museum of Art no longer resembles the active crime scene when agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Art Crime Team raided the museum in June and seized its marquee exhibit. Interrogated by an FBI affidavit detailing his nine-year criminal investigation into the work of art.

No more TV news helicopters buzzing overhead. The station ponders the fate of the painting and its owner in a sun-burnt parking lot.

Today, museums hope to move beyond their role at the center of headline-grabbing art scandals and offer culturally significant images to the general public, the art world, local officials, donors, and museum staff. I’m trying to reconfirm that I’m playing a role. Play by serving the community.

It’s not easy.

The museum canceled the next three exhibitions planned by former director Aaron de Groft, who brought in the Basquiat show, and was fired by the board just four days after the FBI pulled the offending Basquiat from the wall. It was

The Basquiat exhibit has been removed from the museum’s website. A box of the show’s 163-page catalog and a pile of museum-branded Basquiat merchandise were all moved from the gift shop to the museum’s basement, employees familiar with the move said.

The FBI’s affidavit cites evidence of possible conspiracy and wire fraud, but has not filed charges in the case.

But philanthropic ground is already shaken. Six prominent his OMA donors provide financial support Rollins Museum of Art, at nearby Rollins College, according to its director, Ena Heller.And his Martin Andersen Gracia Andersen Foundation, one of Orlando’s largest charities, told The New York Times that Robert Henri and John Singer Sargent — to Rollins from OMA, where they were on loan for nearly 30 years. Six of his 22 paintings in the collection will be donated in full to Mr. and Mrs. Rollins.

The Foundation’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, T. Picton Warlow IV, made no mention of the recent controversy, saying the Rawlins were committed to his foundation’s educational mission and to the “more diverse arts-lovers in our community.” He simply stated that he shared a desire to reach out to “house audiences.” “

Some members of the city’s arts community — including Heller — are now publicly calling for the resignation of OMA’s chairman of the board, Cynthia Brumbach. “This didn’t start and end with Aaron de Groft,” Heller said. “He reported to the oversight board of directors who have fiduciary responsibilities for the museum.”

Heller cited an FBI subpoena sent to OMA on July 27, 2021. This took place about seven months before the opening of the exhibition and called for “all-out” communication between the museum’s employees, the board and the owners of the works. “There are calculations to be done there,” said the director. “What happened at the Orlando Museum of Art set us all back years. There are people in the community who are very angry. Rightly so.”

Brumback issued a statement after the FBI raid, saying OMA was “extremely concerned about several issues” regarding the Basquiat exhibition and had “initiated an official process to address these issues.” Did. Brumback did not respond to a request for comment.

De Groft claimed in a July interview at his home here that the painting is an authentic Basquiat work. The New York Times said he questioned the painting’s authenticity in February. One of them, his, was painted on the back of a cardboard box with instructions to “Align top of FedEx shipping label here.” The article noted that a graphic designer who worked for Federal Express said the label’s typeface (which he designed specifically for the company) was not used until several years after Basquiat’s death. did.

In a recent interview, De Groft claimed that “all this happened because you got the font wrong,” and was more disgusted than angry as he continued to challenge the timeline of the Federal Express typeface. It sounded like there was. The FBI also interviewed his graphic designer and noted in an affidavit that the typeface indicates that the painting was not painted in 1982, as claimed by the artwork’s owner. Did.

De Groft said new evidence would emerge to substantiate him, and he went on to claim that the painting was recovered from television screenwriter Thad Mumford’s Los Angeles storage unit. Saying that he interviewed Ford, Mumford said, “Never met Jean-Michel Basquiat, or obtained or purchased any of his paintings, even in the 1980s.” )

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Of the three canceled exhibitions, De Groft said they were all fine, too. But sources inside the museum had threatened to fire him if he spoke to the media, so he spoke on condition of anonymity.

One of the canceled shows would have focused on a large painting that De Groft said was by Jackson Pollock. It is co-owned by Los Angeles trial attorney Pierce O’Donnell, one of Basquiat’s co-owners. It remains unauthenticated by the artist’s property, which was specifically cited in the same FBI subpoena sent to OMA in July 2021, requesting all private correspondence relating to it. .

The second show that was canceled was to feature a set of Michelangelo paintings. Several museum employees said it raised internal concerns about proper attribution. The third canceled show was a touring exhibition of works by the much-loved British artist Banksy.It was organized by a private commercial enterprise and Banksy himself Denied It was one of several exploits of his fame, writing on his website, “Don’t come to us for a refund because it might be shitty.”

What remains of OMA’s walls doesn’t include names in bold, which in and of itself isn’t all that impressive. Florida Contemporary Art Award, a survey of talent across the state by Hansen Mulford, the museum’s chief curator and associate curator Coralie Kleisen Grazon. Yet this kind of support for Florida’s art ecosystem is overshadowed by the Basquiat issue.

Signs of local impatience against the OMA erupted last month when a large mural critical of the OMA was plastered on the wall facing one of the main approaches. Created by one of Orlando’s most famous street artists, he HalsiFeatures his signature “Everyone” figurine topped with one of Basquiat’s iconic crowns. On the left side of the figure is an image of De Groft. To its right is Jordana Moore, an art professor at the University of Maryland, who said in an FBI affidavit that she was paid $60,000 by the owner of Basquiat’s artwork in 2017 to value the painting. There is a depiction of Sagesu.

The mural is a low-key riff on an email detailing Sugges’ anxieties about the museum’s Basquiat exhibition, cited in an FBI affidavit. When the show opened her February of this year, she contacted the museum and asked them not to associate her name with it.

“Did you get a $60 grand to write this?” “Okay then. Loud. You took the money. Stop being holier than you.”

Halsi said she was a spokesperson for many of the art communities who were upset about what the exchange represented. said Halsi. “Everything just devalued Orlando.”

The building Halsi chose for the mural was Renaissance Theater Companyco-founder and artistic director Donald Lupe said he was inundated with congratulatory messages after a photo of the mural went viral. Although the appearance of the mural surprised him, he agreed with Halsi’s view.

“We’re starting to hold people accountable, which wasn’t common before,” Lupe said. “It’s encouraging.”

The OMA board has announced that a special task force will “implement organizational and communication best practices.” Leading this effort will be a new Interim Director. Rueder Whitlocka retired pastor and seminary president He previously headed the philanthropic arm of a local investment management firm.

This isn’t the first time museums have faced crisis in recent years. In 2020, OMA fired former director Glen Gentele, who was the Orlando Sentinel. report Workplace harassment was rampant and was accused of creating what one museum administrator called a “toxic culture.” After nine trustees (nearly one-third of him on the board of directors) resigned in protest against Gentele’s actions, the remaining trustees fired his Gentele (on public tax returns). was paid $200,000 in severance pay). Whitlock was also brought in as interim director to help reform the museum’s workplace culture until De Groft was hired as director in February 2021.

Some employees pointed out that history seems to be repeating itself. They said that when the staff met with the chairman of the board, Blumback, to voice their concerns before Basquiat’s show opened, she ignored them, deferred de Groft’s judgment, and questioned the art further. publicly supported him even when the

In a brief mobile phone interview, Whitlock said OMA is “taking pretty clear steps”, adding that “we want the past to be the past.” He didn’t elaborate.

Whitlock has held meetings with various local authorities to ensure public funds continue to flow into OMA’s nearly $3 million annual budget. Orange County Department of Arts and Culture Director Terry Olson said he and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings met with the Interim Director to discuss his pending $155,000 grant request for 2023. said.

“He wanted to make sure we knew they were working to move forward quickly. It’s not like your entire organization is lagging behind.”

The Rollins Museum of Art has plans underway to break ground on the $25 million, 30,000 square foot building next year. It showcases art from old masters to cutting-edge contemporary works, and includes an annual spotlight for new talent in Florida itself.

Several prominent donors who contribute five to six figures to OMA each year said they are discussing changes to OMA funding with the Rollins due to concerns about OMA’s leadership, speaking on condition of anonymity. A donor said: private conversation.

Heller, director of the Rollins Museum, said while she was proud of the local support pouring into her museum, she was not pleased with events at OMA that alienated donors. Told.

“This is not just an Orlando Museum of Art issue,” she said. “It’s a problem for our entire community. Museums operate on public trust, and now that trust is eroded. This was the first time I’d ever seen art, and the first thing they asked me was, ‘How do you know art is real?

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