Home Architect Auctioneer Admits He Helped Create Fake Basquiats For Orlando Museum

Auctioneer Admits He Helped Create Fake Basquiats For Orlando Museum

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Los Angeles-based auctioneer Michael Barzman faces up to five years in prison after admitting playing a major role in the forgery of 25 works falsely credited to Jean-Michel Basquiat and forming the entirety of the much-vaunted exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art. 2022 “Heroes & Monsters” exhibition. Barzman, who previously denied involvement in the forgery effort, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges of making false statements to the FBI, admitting that he enlisted an accomplice, known only as JF, to create the works, in 2012, with the intention of selling them on eBay as authentic Basquiat paintings.

“JF spent a maximum of 30 minutes on each image and as little as five minutes on the others, then gave them to [Barzman] sell on eBay,” read the plea agreement, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. “[Barzman] and JF agreed to split the money they made selling the fraudulent paintings.

A resident of North Hollywood, Barzman made his living auctioning off the contents of abandoned storage spaces. With JF, he created a backstory for the twenty to thirty fake Basquiats, involving the famous artist who created the paintings in 1982 before selling them to the now deceased television screenwriter Thad Mumford for $5,000. According to Barzman, he came across the works while emptying Mumford’s storage locker in 2012, after the writer fell behind on his payments for the space.

Barzman sold the paintings, all done on cardboard, to storage hunter William Force and his backer, Lee Mangin, for $15,000. After Aaron de Groff, SO the director of the Orlando Museum of Art, ordered them authenticated, the twenty-five previously unseen “Basquiats” made their debut in February 2022 in the OMA exhibition “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Thaddeus Mumford, Jr. Venice Collection”. The show was raided by the FBI Art Crime Squad on June 24, 2022, a week before its scheduled closure on June 30 and before its trip to Italy.

Among the red flags leading to the FBI epileptic crisis of the treasury was Mumford’s assertion to a Bureau agent that he had never purchased or stockpiled any works by Basquiat, whom he said he had never met. Additionally, one of the works had been painted on a fragment of a flattened box bearing the phrase “Line up the top of the FedEx shipping label here,” in a typeface not used by the shipping company until in 1994, six years after Basquiat’s death. Before extracting his confession, Bureau officials pointed out to Barzman that one of the works had been painted on an address label bearing the auctioneer’s name.


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