Still recovering its credibility after the headline-making FBI raid of its blockbuster Basquiat exhibition last year, the Orlando Museum of Art has been placed on probation by the American Alliance of Museums.
Commonly called the AAM, it is one of the most prominent museum accreditation groups in the nation. The AAM monitors the conduct of more than 5,000 museums and facilitates partnerships among its members; expulsion from the group can have severe consequences for an institution’s ability to borrow and loan artworks.
The AAM did not share a reason for OMA’s probation with WESH, which first reported the news on Friday.
The museum was at the center of a scandal last June when 25 paintings attributed to Basquiat were seized from the premises in broad daylight. Prior to the seizure, some had cast doubts on the paintings’ authenticity. An FBI affidavit released detailed a nine-year investigation into the artworks and their owners.
A series of swift shakeups at the museum followed, starting with the former museum director Aaron De Groft, who was ousted by the board of trustees only four days after the raid. De Groft unveiled the paintings to the public in February and vehemently defended them amid mounting challenges to their credibility. De Groft and the paintings’ owners claimed the works were created around 1982 by Basquiat while he was living and working in a Los Angeles and had been forgotten in a storage unit for decades.
The FBI affidavit provided evidence to the contrary, including an interview with the purported original owner of the paintings who swore he had never patronized the famed artist.
Also revealed during the investigation was a threatening correspondence between De Groft and one of the experts he commissioned to authenticate the paintings. That expert had requested that her name not be associated with the show, titled “Heroes and Monsters.”
On July 5, De Groft was replaced by interim director Luder Whitlock, whose appointment was intended to help the OMA “move beyond recent events and focus on the future,” the museum noted in a statement. Whitlock resigned after less than two months on the job.
Two days after the Whitlock’s departure, the board replaced its chair, Cynthia Brumback, who was facing considerable criticism from the community for her failure to avert the scandal.
Several former trustees dismissed in April told Orlando press that an FBI subpoena was sent to OMA on July 27, 2021—almost seven months before the exhibition opened—demanding “any and all” communications among the museum’s staff, board, and the owners of the paintings. The former trustees, who were dismissed according to bylaws adopted that year, said Brumback did not inform the board of the subpoena, except for the trustee who handled finances.
The OMA said in a statement that it “remains fully accredited and has been a member in good standing of AAM since 1971. Our status is now temporarily probationary after the events surrounding the Heroes & Monsters exhibition. We are working with the AAM to remove our probationary status and expect to remain in good standing.”