Museum  June 10, 2024  Carlota Gamboa

Orlando Museum of Art’s Ongoing Lawsuit For Basquiat Forgeries

Wikimedia Commons, 2007

Orlando Museum of Art Exterior. License

It seems that the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) still finds itself embroiled in a messy scandal which shook the institution back in 2022. After 25 paintings on cardboard canvases were debunked as being Jean-Michel Basquiat forgeries and seized by the FBI, the OMA has been dealing with the subsequent consequences. 

The culprits were not difficult to determine, since former museum director Aaron De Groft had been in charge of organizing the “Heroes & Monsters” exhibition. However, it looks like De Groft's not prepared to take the fall for the raid that occurred two years ago in June. Even though Michael Barzman, a former auctioneer who was working closely with De Groft, admitted to the FBI that the pieces were fakes, the former director is still not assuming responsibility for the incident.

Orlando Museum of Art

From Thad Mumford’s storage unit, said to be by Basquiat's, “Untitled (Self-portrait with his cowboy hat and wearing Leonardo da Vinci’s flying suit),” from 1982 on corrugated cardboard.

De Groft chose to countersue and demanded restitution last November. This now includes an amended counterclaim that was filed last month. De Groft not only continues to stand by the belief that the Basquiat paintings are authentic, but alleges that he was made a scapegoat by OMA and has been a victim of “false statements” made by museum board chair Mark Elliott. 

Elliot has publicly stated that “[De Groft] abused his position of trust, lied to anyone who questioned the provenance of the artwork, created an environment of fear and hostility amongst the staff, and brought great shame to our community by mounting an exhibition of forged works.”

Of course, De Groft contests this. He claims that the statements were defamatory and is seeking $314,246 in damages resulting from a breached contract that occurred when he was fired by the museum. In response, the OMA’s legal team “denies it committed any of the unlawful actions alleged in the amended counterclaim and denies De Groft is entitled to any of the relief sought.”

About the Author

Carlota Gamboa

Carlota Gamboa is an art writer based in Los Angeles.

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