Orlando Museum’s Chief Curator Departs Amid Basquiat Investigation – ARTnews.com

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The longtime chief curator of the Orlando Museum of Art, Hansen Mulford, has quietly retired after 42 years without fanfare or even advanced notice to staff, according to local press.

Mulford’s retirement was first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, which noted that with it, the OMA’s top leaders during last year’s Basquiat scandal have all left the institution. 

The former museum director, Aaron De Groft, was fired in June 2022 by the OMA board of trustees only days after the FBI seized a suite of paintings on display that were attributed to Basquiat. A FBI affidavit revealed that the works had been at the center of a nine-year-long investigation into their authenticity, and that the museum had been served a subpoena prior to the opening of the exhibition “Heroes & Monsters” in February 2022. Several former trustees have claimed that De Groft and the former board chair, Cynthia Brumback, withheld knowledge of the subpoena.

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De Groft, who had vocally defended the works to the media, was replaced by interim director Luder Whitlock. A swift museum shakeup followed: Whitlock resigned after less than two months on the job, and two days after his departure, the board replaced Brumback as chair. Brumback had faced criticism from the Orlando community for her presumed failure to avert the scandal. She said in a statement in August that she had stepped down from her position to “focus on my business and my family.”

An internal announcement was issued by OMA interim chief operating officer, Joann Walfish, on the day of Mulford’s departure. “Today we are announcing the retirement of Chief Curator Hansen Mulford,” she wrote in the message. “We thank Hansen for over 40 years of service to the Orlando Museum of Art. Mulford’s last day as our Chief Curator was February 17.”

Walfish confirmed in a statement that Coralie Claeysen-Gleyzon would act as interim chief curator while a search was conducted for his replacement.  

Mulford, meanwhile, “has agreed to be a consultant to OMA for a limited time on the Museum’s 2023 Florida Prize in Contemporary Art,” Walfish added. The institution, which was put on probation with the American Alliance of Museums in January, is also searching for De Groft’s replacement. 

In the nine months since the FBI raid, the museum has launched several initiatives to reestablish its credibility. The board of trustees commissioned the Orlando-based Akerman law firm to investigate the Basquiat scandal and has been receiving recommendations based on the results of the probe for months.

In an interview this past September, current board president Mark Elliott told the Orlando Sentinel that the investigation’s findings would be made public, however to date, no information has been shared. The museum has not responded to requests for comment on the investigation.

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