The Orlando Museum of Art Is In ‘Severe’ Financial Distress After Fake Basquiats Scandal

The museum could face a deficit of $835,000 for the 2024 fiscal year.

Orlando Museum of Art. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

The Orlando Museum of Art in Florida is in dire financial shape after it was raided in 2022 by the FBI, which seized paintings purportedly by Jean-Michel Basquiat, according to a recent report.

A recording obtained by The New York Times captured the museum’s executive director Cathryn Mattson revealing the depth of the financial crisis during an internal meeting in December. Artnet News could not independently verify the recording but has reached out to the museum for comment and did not hear back by press time.

“We are in a severe financial crisis,” Mattson said in the recording. She became the interim director in April 2023 and was made permanent in December.

Mattson said in the December meeting that the museum spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire crisis communications professionals and a legal team to deal with the FBI investigation and an ongoing lawsuit against former director Aaron De Groft.

“Within a year’s time, we had a 25 percent increase in unbudgeted expenses,” Mattson said, adding that the museum’s funds were “nearing exhaustion level.” The museum has exhausted its credit lines and has a number of loans, she added. “We do not have the funds readily at hand to cover that,” she said, according to the Times. “I mean, that is the truth of the matter.”

Mattson was reached by the Times for comment Friday and said a recent meeting with prominent philanthropists in the city did not end with financial relief. She projected that the museum could face a deficit of $835,000 for the 2024 fiscal year.

In the meantime, the museum’s trustees have stepped in and doubled their contributions to help the museum through its troubles.

But the museum has faced criticism from within and from the public about its lack of transparency through the crisis. A petition launched by a former member of the museum’s acquisition trust board has sought the resignation of Mattson and the board of trustees, and the release of findings from an internal task force investigation after the Basquiat scandal.

The Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board issued a blistering op-ed on January 11, the day before the Times published its report, also backing the release of the task force’s findings and noting that museum leaders had promised as far back as September 2022 to provide the community with the results.

“This editorial board has echoed the call for transparency over the 18 months that have passed since the FBI swooped in and carried away the 25 Basquiats alleged to be fake,” the Orlando Sentinel said in its op-ed.

The op-ed also noted that donors are deserting the institution in droves but that details are few and far between.

Normally, such details could be glimpsed from financial statements that museums operating as nonprofits are required to file each year. However, the most recent form on the museum’s website was filed in the spring of 2023 for the 2022 fiscal year, which ended as the museum’s troubles began.


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