ORLANDO — The Orlando Museum of Art has parted ways with its Florida museum in days after the FBI raided the Florida museum and seized more than two dozen paintings attributed to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, which are the subject of an investigation into possible wire fraud and conspiracy CEO separated.
The FBI raided the museum on Friday and removed the paintings after questions were asked about their authenticity.
Orlando Museum of Art spokeswoman Emilia Bourmas-Fry said in a statement that they are complying with an FBI warrant for access to the Heroes and Monsters exhibit, now owned by the government. She added that none of the museum staff have been arrested.
The exhibit was originally scheduled to run in Orlando until June 2023, but the museum later announced it was ending next week. Bourmas-Fry said the owners of the artworks declined to renew the museum’s contract and planned to send the works to Italy for exhibition.
“Based on my training and experience, I believe that the significantly advanced date of OMA’s Mumford Collection international departure is intended to avoid further scrutiny of the works’ provenance and authenticity by the public and law enforcement agencies,” an FBI special agent wrote in the warrant .
The museum’s board of trustees is “extremely concerned” about the exhibition of 25 paintings whose authenticity has been questioned, as well as an “inappropriate” email former CEO and director Aaron De Groft sent to an academic art expert when she asked that her name not be used to promote the works, Cynthia Brumback, the museum committee chair, said in an emailed statement Tuesday night.
“We have initiated an official process to address these matters because they are inconsistent with the values of this institution, our standards of business and our standards of conduct,” Brumback said.
The statement didn’t say whether De Groft had resigned or been fired, and a museum spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an emailed question about it on Wednesday.
In the email to the unnamed art expert, De Groft told her to “shut up,” and threatened to tell her employer that she was paid $60,000 to write a report on the pieces, when she said, She no longer wants to be associated with her promotion of the works and would consider it libelous for the museum to continue using her name, according to a search warrant released on Friday, the day of the FBI raid.
“You want us to put out that you have $60,000 to write that? OK then. Keep your mouth shut. you took the money Stop being holier than you. They did this, not me or anyone else,” De Groft said in the email cited in the search warrant. “Be quiet now, that’s my best advice. These are real and legitimate. You know that. They threaten the wrong people. Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.”
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De Groft did not respond to an email message sent via LinkedIn on Wednesday.
According to the search warrant, federal art crimes investigators have been investigating the 25 paintings since shortly after their discovery in 2012. The controversy gained more attention after the Orlando exhibition opened in February.
Basquiat, who lived and worked in New York City, thrived in the 1980s as part of the Neo-Expressionism movement. The Orlando Museum of Art was the first institution to exhibit pieces said to have been found in an old locker in Los Angeles years after Basquiat’s death in 1988 from a drug overdose at the age of 27.
Questions about the authenticity of the artworks arose almost immediately after their discovery. The artwork was said to have been made in 1982, but experts have pointed out that the cardboard used in at least one of the pieces contained FedEx writing that the search warrant said was not used until 1994, about six years after Basquiat’s death. In addition, television writer Thad Mumford, the owner of the storage room where the artworks were eventually found, told investigators that he had never owned Basquiat art and that the pieces were not in the unit when he last visited. Mumford died in 2018.
De Groft has repeatedly insisted that the art is legitimate.
Before coming to Orlando, De Groft was director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and associate director of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.