Aug 31, 2022 - News

The long strokes of the Orlando Museum of Art's Basquiat fiasco

FBI agents at the Orlando Museum of Art Orlando,

FBI agents at the Orlando Museum of Art in June. Photo: Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Can a puzzle be art?

What's happening: Former trustees of the scandal-hit Orlando Museum of Art who were dismissed from the governing board last week now say they were kept in the dark about the FBI's investigation into the authenticity of purported Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings.

  • And they say they were "terminated" from the volunteer board when they called a meeting to discuss how the board chair was handling the situation, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Driving the news: Board chair Cynthia Brumback wrote a column Aug. 18 to address the fallout from the June FBI raid when agents seized paintings that were part of the museum's "Heroes and Monsters" exhibit, said to be never-before-seen Basquiat works that had been found in a storage locker.

  • She wrote that she and the board "continue to feel embarrassment" from the "negative attention" and asked the community to "stand by us."

The intrigue: The column raised a timing issue. Brumback wrote that the FBI had subpoenaed the museum in July 2021, months before the exhibit's February opening. Then:

  • "Our director presented us with several authentication reports, specifically one from Diego Cortez, the now-deceased man widely credited with 'discovering' Basquiat and who served on Basquiat's estate's official authentication committee," she wrote.
  • "Based on this and the other reports, our director reassured us that everything was in order."

Yes, but: Trustees told the Sentinel they were never informed the museum had been served the subpoena and knew nothing was amiss until the raid.

  • When they raised concerns about Brumback's handling of the issue, they received an email informing them they’d been dismissed from the board.
  • A press release followed from a new exhibition-vetting task force’s co-chairs, Mark Elliott and Nancy Wolf, saying the members had exceeded their term limits.

Meanwhile, interim director Luder Whitlock, who replaced fired director Aaron De Groft, resigned last week after just six weeks on the job.

  • Brumback stepped down as chair but was replaced by Elliott, seen as her close ally, and remains on the board, which is now trying to find a new museum director.

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