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The Orlando Basquiats: OMA Drops Charges

January 24, 2024
An abstract, grafitti-like painting on a piece of cardboard showing a man against a black background, a rainbow forming between his outstretched hands, and white next behind him.

Untitled (Boxer), one of the Orlando Basquiat forgeries

The situation at the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) has progressed again. Last time we checked in, disgraced former director Aaron de Groft countersued OMA for wrongful termination, defamation, and breach of contract. This was in response to OMA’s lawsuit against De Groft for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and conspiracy. Originally, OMA brought its lawsuit against De Groft and the consortium of investors that owns the twenty-five allegedly fake Basquiat paintings at the center of this scandal. However, OMA has dropped its suit against the owners and is now focusing solely on De Groft.

The museum administration decided to focus just on De Groft mainly to cut down on legal costs. Leaked minutes of a museum board meeting reveal that the museum is now facing a deficit of $1 million. So, of course, it’s understandable that they would cut costs wherever they can. The museum’s financial troubles can be linked to the Basquiat scandal. The museum’s chief executive, Cathryn Mattson, explained that OMA has had a 25% increase in unbudgeted expenses, mainly hiring “a legal defense team” and “crisis communication professionals” to help the museum deal with the scandal’s fallout. With the scandal still fresh on everyone’s minds, local donors and philanthropists have proven hesitant or even resistant to help OMA with their financial troubles.

The loss of donors shows that OMA is not only facing a “crisis of liquidity”, but also a “crisis of confidence”. This is partially because the museum administration is keeping everything on such a tight leash. Museum staff who gave statements to the press had to do so anonymously since they had been threatened with termination should they do so. Other museum staff have criticized the museum’s practice of firing or otherwise penalizing any employees who call attention to other forms of “corruption and incompetence” at OMA. Fiorella Escalon, a member of the museum’s Acquisition Trust board, was removed from her position allegedly for voicing her criticism of the current museum board and starting the Save OMA campaign. Escalon’s criticisms call attention to the institutional culture that allowed the Basquiat scandal to unfold in the first place.

OMA has already spent nearly $589,000 on legal expenses and crisis management, earmarking an additional $317,425 in its current budget to pay the hired firms. The museum also anticipates another $500,000 in legal costs for when their suit goes to trial in October 2025. With increased costs and fleeing donors, the museum will find it increasingly difficult to manage other expenses, mainly a new roof and HVAC system estimated to cost $6.8 million.

Here are links to our previous updates on the Orlando Basquiat scandal: