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(Credit: Alamy)


Museum director behind seized Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit has history with ‘discovered’ artworks

The ousted former director of Orlando Museum of Art, Aaron De Groft, allegedly has a history of collecting artworks with contested ownership and verifiability.

De Groft was removed from his position at OMA this June after an FBI raid on the museum, notably an exhibition of the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The works of ‘Heroes & Monsters: Jean Michel Basquiat’ had their authenticity called into question.

The FBI had been investigating the paintings for several years and, as a result, found that there had been “false information relating to the alleged prior ownership of the paintings”. Their report claimed that De Groft had sent threatening emails to Jordana Moore Saggese, who was paid $60,000 to verify the paintings. Saggese, however, has denied that she confirmed the Basquiat paintings’ authenticity.

De Groft had worked at the Muscarelle Museum of Art in Virginia prior to joining OMA. During his time there, he doubled the museum’s collection with unremarkable paintings, bought at low cost and attributed to the European greats of the period between the 16th and 19th Centuries.

At Muscarelle, De Groft bought an unattributed painting he tried to pass off as a work of Cezanne. He also allegedly attempted to verify a painting he claimed belonged to Titian, conducting scientific research and consulting archival footage to authenticate it.

However, the art historian Charles Hope said: “The portrait is, to most people’s eyes including my own, a feeble work unworthy of Titian himself. I tend to be suspicious of art historians using exotic scientific techniques to boost the credibility of second-rate pictures. It is an extremely common practice, and seldom, in my experience, produces convincing results.”

De Groft has been questioned on the seized Basquiat paintings but has not yet commented on them.