Home Arts Auctioneer admits helping create fake Basquiats seized by FBI during museum raid

Auctioneer admits helping create fake Basquiats seized by FBI during museum raid

by godlove4241
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The murky origins of the fake works by Jean-Michel Basquiat that were seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last June in a spectacular raid on the Orlando Museum of Art became much clearer on Tuesday (April 11), when court documents were filed in Los Angeles revealed the works were created by auctioneer Michael Barzman and an anonymous forger in 2012.

According to court documents deposit by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, Barzman agreed to plead guilty to lying to FBI agents about the origin of the paintings and admitted that he fabricated a false provenance for fake works by Basquiat created by an accomplice identified only by the initials JF.

“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,” the plea agreement reads. “[Barzman] and JF agreed to split the money they made selling the fraudulent paintings. JF and [Barzman] created approximately 20-30 artworks using various art materials to create colorful images on cardboard.

At the time, Barzman ran an auction company that bought and sold the contents of storage units whose tenants had fallen behind or stopped paying. Prior to the FBI raid, the purported provenance of works seized from the Orlando Museum of Art maintained that screenwriter Thad Mumford purchased them directly from Basquiat in 1982; after Mumford fell behind on payments for his storage unit, its contents – Basquiats included – were auctioned off. Barzman admitted to making up the Mumford storage locker story. Mumford died in 2018.

The works nevertheless made their way onto the art market and, in February 2022, were shown at the Orlando Museum of Art in the exhibition Heroes and Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Thaddeus Mumford, Jr. Venice Collection. But following doubts about the authenticity of the works, the FBI raided the museum on June 24, 2022 and seized 25 coins.

Later that summer, Barzman lied when questioned by the FBI. “At the time of the interview, [Barzman] knew that he and JF created the paintings and that his statements to the contrary were false,” the plea agreement reads. In a subsequent interview, in October 2022, he admitted that the provenance of the works “was a lie”, but always denied any role in the creation of the works – even though his name appeared on a postal label on the back of one. entered tables. .

In Tuesday’s plea agreement, Barzman admitted that “most of the works featured were, in fact, created by [him] and JF. Making false statements to US government agents is punishable by up to five years in federal prison.

The identity of the forger, JF, remains a mystery for now, although Barzman has agreed to surrender for a future court appearance and the FBI’s art crime team continues to investigate the affair.

In the meantime, the fallout from the fiasco continues to reverberate at the Orlando Museum of Art. Immediately after the raid, the museum’s board fired director Aaron De Groft, citing concerns about the processes surrounding the exhibition and revelations of his “inappropriate electronic correspondence” with an academic who was asked to authenticate Basquiat’s works. This scholar, Jordana Moore Saggese, a professor at the University of Maryland, later said that his assessment of the work was misinterpreted and that she had concluded only a fraction of them “maybe” by Basquiat.

In the months following the raid, De Groft’s replacement, acting manager Luder Whitlock, resigned shortly after her appointment to the position, the president of the museum’s board of trustees, Cynthia Brumback, was replaced. Earlier this year, the American Alliance of Museums placed the Orlando Museum of Art (a member of the industry group since 1971) on probation.

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