Orlando Museum of Art Facing Financial Shortfall After Scandalous Basquiat Show

The Orlando Museum of Art is in financial peril following its scandalous show of forged Basquiat paintings.

According to the Orlando Sentinel and the New York Times, Cathryn Mattson, the executive director of the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA), revealed in a leaked internal meeting that the museum is facing a budgetary shortfall for the coming year of $1 million.

The museum has been in crisis since June 2022, when members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Art Crime Team seized 25 works attributed to Basquiat from the exhibition. Los Angeles auctioneer Michael Barzman later admitted to the FBI that he and a partner created the paintings. 

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FBI agents pack up their boxes, bubble wrap and other packing tools during the raid at the Orlando Museum of Art on Friday, June 24, 2022. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Orlando Museum Narrows Focus of Basquiat Lawsuit to Former Director Aaron De Groft Amid Financial Difficulties

Orlando Museum of Art Says Former Director Tried to Profit from Fake Basquiat Paintings

In the wake of the raid and the release of a damning FBI affidavit, director Aaron De Groft, who had introduced the contested artworks to the museum, was fired; museum board chair Cynthia Brumback also departed. The museum filed a lawsuit against De Groft and the owners of the paintings, accusing them of attempting to profit from exhibiting the forgeries. De Groft has countersued the institution for wrongful termination, defamation, and and breach of contract.

In the internal meeting, Mattson, who was made interim executive director and chief executive in April 2023, and permanently instated by the trustees in December, said the museum had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire “crisis communication professionals” and “a legal defense team” to handle the fallout, which includes the ongoing FBI investigation. 

“Within a year’s time we had a 25 percent increase in unbudgeted expenses,” Mattson said in a leaked recording quoted by the newspapers. The museum’s reserve funds, she continued, “are nearing exhaustion level and that has been our cushion. We have also exhausted our lines of credit and have loans.”

The museum is now in $500,000 of debt, Mattson said. The remainder of the museum’s fiscal year, ending in June 30, is also dire: the museum, which has an annual budget of roughly $4 million, expected a budgetary shortfall of $1 million.

“We do not have the funds readily at hand to cover that,” she said. “I mean, that is the truth of the matter.”

She added that meetings with three of the city’s prominent philanthropist had promised no financial bailout. However, she pointed to positive developments for the museum such as the return of pre-Covid attendance numbers and programs to increase engagement with primary and secondary-school children. She also said in a statement the museum “seeks to recover these costs from the defendants in its civil suit” and “has also sought monetary assistance from its government and charity partners.”

A half 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 of 18th- and 19th-century American paintings to the Rollins.

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