The story of one of the most outrageous art-related crimes that have happened in recent years goes back to 2022. In February last year, the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) announced its new exhibit of never-before-seen works by Basquiat. Several months later, federal agents raided the museum right in the middle of the ongoing “Heroes & Monsters” exhibition and confiscated the displayed paintings. In just a few days after that, Aaron De Groft, the director of the OMA was fired. In August 2023, the Orlando Museum of Art sued its former CEO for trying to profit from art forgery.
The Orlando Museum of Art Sues Ex-CEO Over Fake Basquiat Scandal
After the forged paintings were confiscated, there were little to no updates on the case. A major break happened when the auctioneer Michael Barzman, who previously said he had simply discovered forgotten Basquiat works in a storage unit, admitted that he had made all of the fakes himself. He was first accused of having a hand in the forgery after the FBI had found his home address on the box that served as a canvas for one of the “Basquiats.” He confessed to having worked with an artist known as J.F., who allegedly made each of the 25 paintings in under 30 minutes. The men then sold these paintings to clients who proceeded to loan them to the Orlando Museum of Art.
One of the main tells of the entire collection of paintings being fake was the fact that the cardboard box on which the work was painted featured an anachronistic typeface. The forged pieces were claimed to have been created around 1982 but were painted on boxes that could not have been used before 1994.
In the latest development in the 2022 scandal, the Orlando Museum of Art filed a lawsuit against its ex-CEO, accusing him of trying to profit from exhibiting fake paintings by the renowned artist. These suspicions are understandable: while “Heroes & Monsters” was on view, it increased the attendance rates by 500%.
Despite the fact that art forgery scandals cause a lot of damage to the reputation of the institution displaying fakes, they have always fascinated the general public. People who were watching the case unravel online were baffled after they saw the alleged Basquiat paintings. Some of them could not believe that museum professionals could not tell the art was not original. The works are currently available online, so pretty much anyone can “appraise” them and theorize as to how they slipped under the radar.