The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has placed the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) on probation, a rare move that negatively affects the museum’s reputation and could potentially affect its ability to secure artwork loans. The decision comes after OMA exhibited a 25-painting Jean-Michel Basquiat show last year allegedly comprised of fakes. In June, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) raided the museum and seized the 25 disputed paintings.
AAM is the country’s main body of museum governance and accredits museums based on standards such as collection stewardship, fiscal responsibility, and adherence to scholar-based research. Currently, OMA is the only museum on probation out of almost 1,100 accredited institutions, although AAM occasionally revokes this status. In 2014, the group de-accredited the Delaware Museum of Art after the institution sold art in its collection to finance debt.
OMA’s Basquiat exhibition, titled Heroes and Monsters: The Thaddeus Mumford, Jr. Venice Collection, was heavily scrutinized even before the June FBI raid. The show opened in February 2022, boasting paintings attributed to Basquiat, all of which were being publicly displayed for the first time. The works were supposedly found in the storage unit of a Hollywood screenwriter who had stashed them away for 30 years. A particularly damning piece of evidence against the paintings’ legitimacy was a FedEx logo printed on the back of one of the paintings: A FedEx graphic designer said the logo was not created until 1994, but Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988. To compound the exhibition’s issues, OMA’s then-director Aaron De Groft paid a specialist $60,000 to authenticate the paintings and dismissed her concerns over some of the works.
The museum faced severe fallout. Funders withdrew their donations and the Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation said it would remove its collection of 18th- and 19th-century paintings. The museum ousted director De Groft, and shortly after, the interim director and board chair resigned. The museum also canceled multiple exhibitions including shows featuring works by Jackson Pollock and Michelangelo.
The Orlando Sentinel first reported that AAM had placed OMA on probation Friday, October 20, although AAM told Hyperallergic it could not comment directly on specific circumstances surrounding particular museums.
“The probation period is set by the Accreditation Commission and determined based on the museum’s particular compliance issues,” an AAM spokesperson explained. “To move out of probation, the museum must demonstrate that it has addressed its particular compliance issues to the Accreditation Commission’s satisfaction.”
An OMA spokesperson reiterated to Hyperallergic that the museum remains accredited and “has been a member in good standing of AAM since 1971.”
“We are working with the AAM to remove our probationary status and expect to remain in good standing,” said the spokesperson.
OMA has forged onward with new exhibitions, including a current photography installation examining Ukrainians’ resistance to the Russian invasion.
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