Art director

Orlando Art Museum director walks out of FBI investigation

ORLANDO, FL – Aaron De Groft, director and CEO of the Orlando Museum of Art, has parted ways with the museum as part of an FBI investigation into the authenticity of paintings attributed to the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat that were part of an exhibit at the museum.

The FBI seized 25 paintings in a raid at the museum on Friday as part of the wire fraud and conspiracy investigation.

The museum’s board is concerned about the investigation and doubts about the authenticity of the paintings as well as an email sent by De Groft to a university art expert in response to his request to have his name removed promotions for the exhibit, museum board chair Cynthia Brumback said in an email to The Associated Press.

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In the email, De Groft threatened to tell the woman’s employer that she had been paid $60,000 to write an exhibits report, according to a search warrant issued the day of the raid.

The board’s statement did not say whether De Groft had been fired or had resigned.

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Basquiat rose to prominence as part of the neo-expressionist movement in the 1980s and died of a drug overdose at age 27 in 1988. Many of his paintings provided social commentary on racism, colonialism and power structures.

The disputed paintings were discovered in 2012 in a storage locker in Los Angeles, and questions about their authenticity were raised soon after. The artwork is claimed to have been created in 1982, but experts have pointed out that one of the pieces contains a FedEx typeface that only existed in 1994, according to the warrant.

Prior to his death in 2018, the owner of the storage locker, Thad Mumford, told investigators he had never owned any Basquiat art and the pieces were not in the locker during his previous visit.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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