MIKE SCHNEIDER – Associated Press
Orlando, Florida (AP) – The Orlando Museum of Art broke up with its director general a few days after the FBI raided a Florida museum and seized more than two dozen paintings attributed to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, which are the subject of an investigation. into possible fraud and conspiracy.
The museum’s board of trustees is “very concerned” about the exhibition of 25 paintings, the authenticity of which has been questioned, as well as the “inappropriate” letter that former CEO and director Aaron De Groft sent to an academic expert when she asked not to be named. used to promote the works, said Cynthia Brambak, chairwoman of the museum’s board in an email Tuesday night.
“We have launched a formal process to address these issues as they do not meet the values of this institution, our business standards and standards of conduct,” Brambak said.
The statement did not say whether De Groft had resigned or been fired, and a museum spokesman did not immediately respond to an e-mail question about it on Wednesday.
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In an email to an unnamed art expert, De Groft urged her to “keep quiet,” and he threatened to tell her employer that she was paid $ 60,000 for writing a report on the works when she said she no longer wanted to communicate with the promoted works and would have considered it defamatory if the museum had continued to use her name, according to a search warrant issued Friday, the day of the FBI raid.
“You want us to announce that you got $ 60,000 to write this? Good then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than you. You didn’t do it me or anyone else, “De Groft said in an email quoted in the search warrant.” My best advice is to keep quiet. They are real and legal. You know that. You are threatening the wrong people. Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane. ”
De Groft did not respond Wednesday to an email sent via LinkedIn.
According to the search warrant, federal criminal investigators for the arts studied 25 paintings shortly after their opening in 2012. The controversy gained more attention after the exhibition opened in Orlando in February.
Basque, who lived and worked in New York City, succeeded in the 1980s as part of the neo-expressionist movement. The Orlando Art Museum was the first institution to exhibit works that are said to have been found in an old locker in Los Angeles years after Basque’s death in 1988 from a 27-year-old drug overdose.
Questions about the authenticity of the works arose almost immediately after their discovery. The work was allegedly done in 1982, but experts noted that the cardboard used in at least one of the parts included the FedEx font, which was not used until 1994, about six years after Basque’s death, according to a search warrant. Also, TV presenter Ted Mumford, the owner of the storage locker where the artwork was eventually found, told investigators that he had never had Basque works and that they were not in the block the last time he visited. Mumford died in 2018.
De Groft repeatedly insisted that art was legal.
Prior to arriving in Orlando, De Groft was director of the Muscarello Museum of Art at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, and deputy director of the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.
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