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 obtain art loans. The decision comes after the OMA last year exhibited an exhibition of 25 paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, allegedly made up of fakes. In June, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) raided the museum and seized the 25 disputed paintings.
The AAM is the nation’s primary museum governance body and accredits museums based on standards such as collections management, fiscal responsibility, and respect for scholarly research. Currently, the OMA is the only museum on probation out of nearly 1,100 accredited institutions, although the AAM occasionally revokes this status. In 2014, the group withdrew accreditation from the Delaware Museum of Art after the institution sold artwork from its collection to fund debt.
The Basquiat exhibition at the OMA, entitled Heroes and Monsters: The Thaddeus Mumford, Jr. Venice Collection, was scrutinized even before the FBI raid in June. The exhibit opened in February 2022, with paintings attributed to Basquiat all exhibited publicly for the first time. The works were reportedly found in the closet of a Hollywood screenwriter who had hidden them for 30 years. A particularly damning piece of evidence against the legitimacy of the paintings was a FedEx logo printed on the back of one of the paintings: a FedEx graphic designer said the logo wasn’t created until 1994, but Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988. To compound the problems of the exhibition, Aaron De Groft, then director of the OMA, paid a specialist $60,000 to authenticate the paintings and dismissed his concerns about some of the works.
The museum faced severe fallout. Donors withdrew their donations, and the Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation said it would withdraw its collection of 18th- and 19th-century paintings. The museum ousted director De Groft, and soon after, the acting director and chairman of the board resigned. The museum has also canceled several exhibits, including shows featuring works by Jackson Pollock and Michelangelo.
The Orlando Sentinel first reported that the AAM placed OMA on probation on Friday, October 20, although the AAM said Hyperallergic he could not comment directly on the specific circumstances surrounding particular museums.
“The probationary period is set by the Accreditation Commission and determined based on the museum’s particular compliance issues,” an AAM spokesperson explained. “To exit probation, the museum must demonstrate that it has resolved its particular compliance issues to the satisfaction of the Accreditation Commission.”
A spokesperson for the OMA reiterated to Hyperallergic that the museum remains accredited and “has been a member in good standing of the AAM since 1971”.
“We are working with the AAM to remove our probation status and hope to remain in good standing,” the spokesperson said.
The OMA continued with new exhibits, including a current photographic installation examining Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion.
. art museum Orlando probation after show disputed Basquiat