The Orlando Museum of Art has rescinded legal claims of fraud and conspiracy against the five co-owners of a group of allegedly forged Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings at the center of a scandal that has all but exhausted the museum’s cash supply.
According to a statement by the museum’s board chairman, Mark Elliott, released Friday and shared with ARTnews, the museum is dropping the lawsuit against the consortium of owners to focus solely on former OMA director Aaron De Groft in an “effort to cut legal costs.”
De Groft, Elliott said in the statement, is the most responsible for the doomed Heroes and Monsters exhibition, which featured 25 works painted-on-cardboard originally attributed to Basquiat. De Groft—and the paintings’ co-owners—have fiercely defended the works as authentic. However, following a June 2022 raid on the museum by the FBI, during which the works were taken into the Bureau’s custody, an auctioneer from Los Angeles, Michael Barzman, admitted that he and an accomplice made the works. De Groft was fired shortly after the raid.
De Groft, who has countersued the museum, alleging wrongful termination and defamation, told the Times that for OMA “to pursue an innocent person in their frivolous, meanspirited lawsuit is pathetic.” De Groft maintained that the works are real.
In the meeting, the museum’s executive director and chief executive Cathryn Mattson said the museum had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on professionals in crisis communications and legal fees.
“Within a year’s time, we had a 25 percent increase in unbudgeted expenses,” Mattson said, according to a leaked recording. The museum’s reserve funds, she added, “are nearing exhaustion level and that has been our cushion. We have also exhausted our lines of credit and have loans.”
Mattson said the museum was in debt to the tune of $500,000 and was expecting a budgetary shortfall of $1 million by the end of their fiscal year at the end of June. The museum’s annual budget is around $4 million.