The Orlando Museum of Art’s board chair has left the Florida institution as it continues to reel from controversy over a botched Jean-Michel Basquiat show.
Two days after the museum’s interim director departed, the Orlando Museum announced that it had a new board chair: Mark Elliot, who will begin immediately. The shake-up came as a museum-appointed task force continues to evaluate how the museum dealt with the Basquiat fallout.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Elliott said in a statement. “I look forward to working straightaway on taking steps with our Board to guide the museum towards fulfilling its highest and best purpose, expanding our permanent collection, focusing on good governance and the Museum’s practices and procedures.”
Elliot replaces former chair Cynthia Brumback, who faced criticism for her role in the Basquiat scandal. According to the OMA, Brumback will collaborate with Elliot through the transition and remain involved in museum fundraising.
“I am looking forward to our Centennial in 2024,” Brumback said in a statement, adding, “Regardless of the events in our recent history, we have deep roots in the community and much to be proud of.”
In June, agents from the FBI’s Art Crime Team seized the contents of “Heroes and Monsters,” a show of 25 paintings attributed to Basquiat. The paintings’ authenticity has been the subject of a nine-year-long investigation, according to the FBI’s affidavit. The raid occurred during the museum’s operating hours, as curious visitors crowded by the exhibition’s gallery.
The museum has attempted to move past the scandal and reestablish its credibility with the public and donors. Aaron De Groft, the director who brought in the paintings and adamantly vouched for their authenticity, was fired by the board of trustees four days after the FBI raid.
De Groft and the paintings’ owners claimed they were created by Basquiat while he was living and working in Los Angeles in 1982. The FBI affidavit provided evidence to the contrary, including an interview with the so-called buyer of the paintings who said he had never even met Basquiat. Also included in the affidavit was a threatening email correspondence between De Groft and one of the experts he commissioned to authenticate the paintings. That expert later requested that her name not be associated with the exhibition.
Brumback said in a statement after the FBI raid that the museum was “extremely concerned about several issues” with the Basquiat exhibition and “we have launched an official process to address these matters.” A task force led by Elliott and fellow trustee Nancy Wolf was formed to review “museum policies and procedures designed to help vet exhibitions.” The museum is also “reevaluating” the next three exhibitions planned by De Groft.
Critics of the OMA say that the trustees had ample opportunity to avert the scandal. 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.
According to the New York Times, half a dozen OMA donors are considering shifting their financial support to the nearby Rollins Museum of Art, while the Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation has announced plans to move its prized collection of 18th- and 19th-century American paintings to the Rollins.
Luder Whitlock, former director of the Orlando-based CNL Charitable Foundation, was brought in as interim director in July to signal a return to stability for the institution.
“We are taking some pretty definite steps,” Whitlock said in a statement upon his appointment. “We want to put the past behind us.”
On Wednesday, the museum announced that he had resigned from his post after less than two months on the job.