Orlando Museum of Art organizes exhibition task force following Basquiat FBI raid, director departure

Task force formed after FBI seized Basquiat ‘Heroes and Monsters’ exhibit in June

A criminal complain affidavit alleges that Palm Beach art dealer Daniel Elie Bouaziz schemed to sell paintings that he said were originals by famous artists such as Jean-Michael Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Banksy and Roy Lichtenstein. (WPLG)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orlando Museum of Art announced the organization of an exhibition task force nearly two months after the FBI raided and seized works the museum displayed and claimed were created by Jean-Michele Basquiat.

The museum’s “Heroes and Monsters” Basquiat exhibit was removed on June 25 by federal agents after art crimes investigators questioned the authenticity of 25 paintings on display.

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Now, OMA’s board and staff have formed a task force, led by trustees Mark Elliott and Nancy Wolf, to review “Museum policies and procedures designed to help vet exhibitions,” Emilia Bourmas-Fry, the museum’s director of development, said in a statement.

The FBI raided the museum’s ‘Heroes and Monsters’ Basquiat exhibit in late June. 25 pieces of artwork — which the museum claimed were created by Jean-Michele Basquiat — were removed by federal agents.

“The Task Force has engaged an independent outside law firm to assist with examining oversight procedures for the review and approval process of exhibitions,” Elliott said. “We will also seek to identify ways to strengthen stewardship of OMA’s expanding permanent collection.”

This comes as staff is currently reevaluating all exhibitions planned by OMA’s former director Aaron De Groft, who was initially replaced by longtime employee and former museum CFO Joann Walfish, amid the Basquiat exhibit controversy after repeatedly championing its legitimacy.

The role of interim director was later officially given to Dr. Luder Whitlock.

“We are taking some pretty definite steps,” Whitlock said in a news release. “We want to put the past behind us.”

Bourmas-Fry said the museum is currently looking ahead to lining up its 2024 exhibits, which will celebrate OMA’s centennial.

“In the meantime, we ask for understanding and call on the collective goodwill of the Orlando community as we continue to reorganize and rebuild. We extend our deepest thanks to our supporters and ask the community to continue to stand by us as we work to rebuild a solid future,” Bourmas-Fry said in a statement.

OMA is currently open, featuring the “Purvis Young: The Life I See” and “Jimm Roberts: Southernmost Art and Literary Portraits” exhibits until Oct. 30. For more information, click here.

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About the Author:

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.