Embattled Orlando Museum of Art Receives Gift of 300+ Works

The Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) has received over 300 works by artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Keith Haring, and David Hockney from New York City collectors Dr. James Cottrell and Mr. Joseph Lovett.

The “transformational gift,” as the institution described the donation in an April 4 announcement, comes on the heels of a heated scandal caused by the museum’s 2022 exhibition of previously unseen paintings attributed to Jean Michel Basquiat which turned out to be forgeries. The infamous show, titled Heroes and Monsters, was on display for only four months before the FBI raided the Florida museum and confiscated all 25 works. The fallout was immediate: The institution’s board chair resigned, and OMA fired and sued its director, whom the museum claims was in on the conspiracy.

Cottrell and Lovett’s gift features largely works by LGBTQ+ and NYC-based artists, and includes pieces by Deborah Kass, Kwame Brathwaite, and Robert Mapplethorpe, among other notable 20th-century and contemporary figures. OMA mounted shows centering the Cottrell-Lovett collection in 2004 and 2016, and the collectors have maintained a relationship with the museum over the past two decades.

In a conversation with Hyperallergic, Lovett characterized the scandal as a “bump in the road,” emphasizing the institution’s education programs and crediting the experience of seeing his collection curated and installed at OMA two decades ago with developing his appreciation for acquiring art.

Lovett and Cottrell were in the process of organizing their second exhibition at the museum when the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre happened. Lovett said that he asked the institution to gear the show toward gay identity and homophobia, and the museum overwhelmingly agreed.

“So we think it’s an extraordinary institution,” Lovett said. “We had already been talking about [donating to OMA] for a long time, but then after the scandal, we thought that it would be helpful to the museum.”

Last year, the collectors also promised 200 artworks, largely by artists from NYC’s 1980s downtown scene, to New York University’s revamped Grey Art Gallery.

“We are honored that [Cottrell and Lovett] have entrusted our museum with this wonderful collection, as they have many options,” museum spokesperson Maureen Walsh told Hyperallergic. “It demonstrates Dr. Cottrell and Mr. Lovett’s faith in the museum, its exhibitions, and its educational programs.” 

The Basquiat scandal cast a dark cloud on the OMA’s reputation. In addition to widespread media coverage, the accrediting organization American Alliance of Museums placed the museum on probation. The FBI began investigating the works in Heroes and Monsters shortly after they appeared in 2012 and sent a subpoena to OMA in 2021 demanding records relating to the paintings. Still, the institution forged ahead with the show. 

According to the forgeries’ accompanying tale, the long-lost masterpieces had been relegated to the Los Angeles storage unit of a Hollywood screenwriter, where they sat for decades before surfacing for auction in 2012. A number of inconsistencies arose, including in a testimony by a FedEx designer, who said the logo on a backing sheet of cardboard was not created until six years after Basquiat died. 

After the FBI raid, the museum quickly fired its Director Aaron De Groft, who had been a staunch advocate for the paintings’ authenticity. A year later, OMA sued De Groft, alleging he had planned to take a cut of the profits from the paintings’ eventual sale. The former director vehemently denies these claims and launched a countersuit against OMA late last year.

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