WMOT 89.5 | LISTENER-POWERED RADIO INDEPENDENT AMERICAN ROOTS
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A California man pleads guilty to selling dozens of fake Basquiat paintings

The entrance to an exhibit by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is seen at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 1, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. A former Los Angeles auctioneer has pleaded guilty in a cross-country art fraud scheme where he created fake artwork and falsely attributed the paintings to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
John Raoux
/
AP
The entrance to an exhibit by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is seen at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 1, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. A former Los Angeles auctioneer has pleaded guilty in a cross-country art fraud scheme where he created fake artwork and falsely attributed the paintings to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

A former auctioneer has pleaded guilty to selling fake Jean Michel-Basquiat paintings, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.

Michael Barzman, 45, of North Hollywood, California, was charged with making false statements to the FBI about the origin of the paintings, which were taken from the Orlando Museum of Art last year.

In 2012, Barzman and a second man, known as "J.F.," began making the counterfeit artworks and selling them on eBay and through Barzman's auction business.

"[Barzman] and J.F. agreed to split the money that they made from selling the Fraudulent Paintings," the DOJ said. "J.F. and [Barzman] created approximately 20-30 artworks by using various art materials to create colorful images on cardboard."

Barzman further admitted that he lied about where the paintings came from, and said he found them in a well-known screenwriter's storage unit, the DOJ said.

The fake artwork Barzman sold passed through the art industry and made its way to an exhibit in the Orlando Museum of Art.

"Most of the featured works had, in fact, been created by [Barzman] and J.F.," Barzman said in his plea agreement.

The FBI seized 25 of the counterfeit pieces from the museum in June 2022, though in interviews in August and October 2022, Barzman said he did not make the paintings.

Making false statements to a government agency carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]