Court documents filed in late December of last year show the conclusion to the Orlando Museum of Art’s (OMA) lawsuit against embattled former director Aaron De Groft won’t be coming soon. A case-management report reviewed by the Orlando Sentinel has revealed that the final witness list and date for mediation will be May 1, 2025, followed by a jury trial in August of that year.
Last August, the OMA sued De Groft and the owners of a series of paintings included in the scandal-ridden 2022 show “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat.” The museum alleged that De Groft and others used the show and the museum’s reputation to legitimize a group of 25 paintings they claimed were by Basquiat so that they could be sold after. However, the show was shuttered in June 2022 after several reports doubting their status as bonafide Basquiats, which culminated in the FBI seizing the paintings. A subsequent FBI investigation provided evidence that the works were not by Basquiat, with Los Angeles-based auctioneer Michael Barzman admitting in a plea deal to helping paint and sell the works himself.
The case figures to be a complicated one. Akerman LLP, the law firm representing the museum, said in the case-management report that it expects to depose 50 “art scholars and museum directors” for the case. Further, a representative for the firm told the Sentinel that the lawsuit could cost the museum $500,000. That’s in addition to the more than $100,000 OMA has already paid Akerman since June 2022, according to the Sentinel, when the FBI raided the museum and seized the allegedly phony paintings.
Further delay in the suit could be caused by a series of countersuits against the OMA. DeGroft filed a countersuit against the OMA in November claiming wrongful termination, breach of contract, and defamation. In the countersuit, DeGroft claimed he is being made a scapegoat as part of the OMA’s media strategy for dealing with the scandal. He alleged that Cynthia Brumback, the OMA’s former board chair who resigned in the wake of the Basquiat scandal, and an outside legal team, had approved of the exhibition, even after it was clear the FBI, which subpoenaed the OMA for records regarding the paintings a year before they were seized, was investigating claims of forgery.
Additional countersuits for defamation are expected from defendants in the case, including the group of artworks’ owners called the Basquiat Venice Collection Group/ who claim “that the value of the Basquiat works of art has been tremendously devalued by OMA’s statements to various outlets, including but not limited to the filing of this lawsuit,” according to the court documents.
De Groft and the owners of the supposed Basquiats have denied wrongdoing and maintain that the pieces are real.
There have been reports that mediation and a settlement could resolve the dispute between museum and DeGroft, though, according to court documents, “certain parties” have entered into negotiations and “appear to be far from settlement,” however they have agreed to a neutral mediator.