Aaron De Groft just lost his job as director and chief executive of the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.
Last Friday the FBI seized 25 paintings from the museum that were supposed to be by Jean-Michel Basquiat. They presented the museum with a 41-page affidavit for the search warrant based on an investigation which found
false information relating to the alleged prior ownership of the paintings.”
According to the New York Times, the board of trustees decided to remove de Groft from the museum during a meeting on Tuesday morning
Cynthia Brumback, the chairwoman of the museum’s board, said in a statement that
Effective immediately, Aaron De Groft is no longer director and C.E.O. of Orlando Museum of Art.”
Saying that the museum’s trustees were “extremely concerned about several issues” regarding the Basquiat exhibition, titled Heroes and Monsters. Among them was
the recent revelation of an inappropriate e-mail correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition.”
Last week, the NY Times reported that the affidavit presented quoted an email exchange between De Groft and Jordana Moore Saggese, a professor of art at the University of Maryland hired to authenticate the works. Saggese, who was paid $60,000 by the museum for her research, requested for her name not to be associated with the Basquiat exhibition.
According to the affidavit, De Groft told her,
Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane. You want us to put out there you got $60 grand to write this?
Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou.”
The NY Times also reported that the cardboard on which one of the works was painted included a FedEx typeface. Experts noted that that typeface wasn’t created until 1994—six years after the artist’s death.
OMA unveiled the artworks as “little-known Basquiats” in February ahead of the and their authenticity was called bogus by the art community almost immediately.
De Groft and the owners of the artworks have said that they were painted by Basquiat in late ’82 while he was living and working out of a studio in the California home of mega-dealer Larry Gagosian. Basquiat allegedly sold the works directly to TV screenwriter Thad Mumford for $5,000 in cash, without the knowledge of his dealer.
Supposedly the cache of works then sat forgotten in a storage unit for 25 years until Mumford failed to pay rent on the space, when its contents were then auctioned off in 2012. A special agent for the FBI, stated in the affidavit that Mumford told her in 2014 that he was unaware of any Basquiat artworks being in his storage unit.
He signed an affidavit in 2017 saying that
At no time in the 1980s or at any other time did I meet with Jean-Michel Basquiat…
and at no time did I acquire or purchase any paintings by him.”
Mumford died in 2018.
According to ArtNews, the collection was bought by art and antiquities dealer William Force and his financier, Lee Mangin, for just $15,000. An interest in six of the 25 paintings was bought by LA lawyer Pierce O’Donnell.
The owners of the paintings and De Groft, have maintained that the works are Basquiat originals. They would collectively be worth $100 million if authentic.
This whole thing stinks.
The Basquiat estate disbanded its authentication committee in 2012, when other artists’ estates, including Andy Warhol’s, had ceased authenticating works because of expensive litigation.
(Photos, YouTube; via ArtNews)