Orlando Museum of Art sues former director accusing him of trying to profit off fake Basquiat art

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Museum of Art is suing a former director they say tried to profit off a fake art exhibit.

The FBI raided the museum last year as part of an investigation into fake Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings. A former auctioneer eventually admitted he made them himself.


Now, in an almost 400-page lawsuit filed Monday, OMA is suing the former director and a couple of others for trying to legitimize the fake art.

The lawsuit accuses former director Aaron de Groft of trying to profit from a scheme to show fake Basquiat paintings. The lawsuit says de Groft claimed the owners of the paintings had promised him “a significant cut of the proceeds” from their anticipated multi-million dollar sale.

Read: In the year of infamous Basquiat exhibit, Orlando Museum of Art saw a boost

The scandal started unfolding last year, when investigators raided OMA and seized more than two dozen Basquiat paintings.

One-time auctioneer Michael Barzman pleaded guilty to federal charges admitting he and another man made more than two dozen fake Basquiat paintings. He claimed they made some of them in less than five minutes and planned to sell them on eBay.

Read: Former auctioneer to plead guilty in fake Basquiat paintings case

The Department of Justice said back in 2012, Barzman ran an auction business focused on buying and reselling what was found in unpaid storage units.

DOJ said he created fake art pretending to be that of Basquiat and claimed in a notarized document the paintings belonged to a well-known screenwriter. Those pieces ended up hanging in an exhibit at OMA.

Read: Orlando Museum of Art ‘recommitted’ to mission after fake Basquiat artwork scandal

Barzman entered a plea agreement on the case and he’s facing five years in prison.

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.

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