Orlando Museum of Art Responds to Amended Countersuit from Ex-Director

Orlando Museum of Art Responds to Amended Countersuit from Ex-Director

The Orlando Museum of Art has responded to an amended lawsuit filed by its former director, Aaron De Groft, denying his allegations of defamation. The museum has also voiced support for its board chair, whose public statements regarding De Groft’s involvement in the 2022 Basquiat forgery scandal were cited in the lawsuit.

“OMA denies it committed any of the unlawful actions alleged in the Amended Counterclaim and denies De Groft is entitled to any of the relief sought,” reads the museum’s court filings, as first quoted by the Orlando Sentinel.

In August 2023, the OMA filed suit against De Groft, accusing him of introducing a series of paintings falsely attributed to Jean-Michael Basquiat for personal profit. The works were exhibited in the now-notorious show “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat,” which opened in early 2022 and shuttered that June after an FBI raid of the premises.

The works were seized by authorities amid the revelation of a years-long investigation into their origins. The museum also sued the owners of the artwork, however all defendants but De Groft were later dropped from the suit.

De Groft countersued the OMA in November 2023, claiming wrongful termination and defamation. According to him, the former board chairwoman of the OMA, Cynthia Brumback, and an outside legal team for the museum had given the green light for the exhibition, despite being dealt an FBI subpoena in July 2021 for any documents related to the 25 mixed-media paintings.

He is seeking $314,246.40 plus additional expenses as part of his claim of breach of contract, in addition to unspecified compensation for his defamation claim by the OMA, per court documents. De Groft’s defamation case is supported in part by public statements made by Mark Elliott, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees.

“He abused his position of trust, lied to anyone who questioned the provenance of the artwork, created an environment of fear and hostility amongst the staff, and brought great shame to our community by mounting an exhibition of forged works in which he had a hidden financial interest, as discovered by the investigation commissioned by the OMA Board of Trustees and detailed in our Complaint,” Elliott said earlier this year, as published by local media. “At a time when authenticity and provenance are increasingly questioned, we must continue to stand against those like De Groft, who would abuse the process for personal gain.”

According to the museum, the “statements made by Mark Elliott are true and/or based on truthful information. In the alternative, at the time the alleged defamatory statements were made by Mark Elliott, he believed the statements to be true.”

The post “Orlando Museum of Art Responds to Amended Countersuit from Ex-Director” by Tessa Solomon was published on 06/06/2024 by www.artnews.com