A former Los Angeles auctioneer has agreed to plead responsible in a cross-country artwork fraud scheme the place he created pretend paintings and falsely attributed the work to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, federal prosecutors stated Tuesday.
The work finally wound up on the Orlando Museum of Artwork in Florida earlier than they have been seized by federal brokers final yr in a scandal that roiled the museum and led to its CEO’s departure after he threatened an artwork skilled and instructed her to “shut up.”
Basquiat, a Neo-expressionist painter whose success got here throughout the Eighties, lived and labored in New York earlier than he died in 1988 at age 27 from a drug overdose. The Orlando Museum of Artwork scandal got here in 2022 when a federal raid ended within the seizure of 25 work whose authenticity had been in query for a decade. The museum had been the primary to show the paintings, and its former director had beforehand insisted the paintings was legit.
Defendant Michael Barzman, 45, was charged Tuesday in federal court docket in Los Angeles with making false statements to the FBI throughout an interview final yr, the U.S. Lawyer’s Workplace stated in a information launch. He has agreed to plead responsible and faces as much as 5 years in jail.
Barzman’s court docket date has not been scheduled. Barzman admitted that he and one other man, recognized solely as “J.F.” in court docket papers, had created the bogus work and agreed to separate the gross sales’ proceeds.
“Mr. Barzman was drowning in medical debt after battling most cancers for many years,” his lawyer Joel Koury stated in a press release Tuesday. “In desperation, he participated on this scheme as a result of he was afraid of dropping his medical health insurance. Since then, he has cooperated and executed the whole lot requested of him to compensate for his poor judgement.”
Mark Elliott, the chairman of the Orlando museum’s board of trustees, stated in a press release that the museum “has recommitted itself to its mission to offer excellence within the visible arts with its exhibitions, collections, and academic programming” within the wake of the scandal.
Barzman admitted to the FBI — after repeated denials in interviews with federal brokers, resulting in Tuesday’s felony cost — that he made a false provenance for the work by claiming in a notarized doc that that they had been present in tv author Thad Mumford’s storage locker.
Barzman beforehand ran an public sale enterprise the place he purchased and resold the contents of unpaid storage items. He purchased Mumford’s locker in 2012.
Mumford, who died in 2018, instructed investigators he had by no means owned any Basquiat artwork, and the work weren’t within the unit the final time he had opened it.
Specialists identified that the cardboard utilized in a minimum of one of many items included FedEx typeface that wasn’t used till 1994, about six years after Basquiat died, based on a federal search warrant. The paintings had been marketed as painted in 1982.
Barzman and “J.F.” would make the work on cardboard with varied supplies after which “age” them outside so the paintings would seem like it was painted within the Eighties, based on Barzman’s plea settlement.
However on the again of one of many work seized from the Orlando museum, an important clue remained: A mailing label bearing Barzman’s identify, painted over.