US /

Fake Basquiats Took as Little as 5 Minutes to Create

California man admits involvement in art fraud scheme that embarrassed Orlando art museum
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 12, 2023 12:28 PM CDT
Supposed Basquiat Works Were Made by Desperate Auctioneer
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.   (AP Photo/John Raoux,File)

Most of the 25 paintings displayed in the Orlando Museum of Art's Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit were actually created by a 45-year-old auctioneer from California, whose name appeared on a shipping label on the back of one of the cardboard canvases, authorities say. Prosecutors announced they'd reached a plea deal with Michael Barzman of North Hollywood on Tuesday, nine months after FBI agents raided the museum's Basquiat exhibit. They say Barzman admitted to creating between 20 and 30 paintings that he went on to sell as authentic Basquiats—and many of which later ended up in the museum show. He allegedly worked with another person, identified as JF, to craft the works, with JF spending just five to 30 minutes on each, per the New York Times.

Barzman initially hid his role in the scheme from investigators, even after they confronted him with a cardboard canvas seized from the museum, on which a shipping label with Barzman's name and address had been painted over, according to prosecutors. (Another cardboard canvas reportedly featured typeface used only after Basquiat's 1988 death.) In October, however, Barzman admitted he and JF had created the paintings in 2012, then exposed them to the elements to make them look old. Meanwhile, Barzman, who ran a business that bought and resold the contents of storage units, created false provenance documents to back a story that the paintings had been sold to a screenwriter, who kept them in a storage unit whose contents Barzman bought, according to a plea agreement.

It was all bogus. Barzman created and sold the fake paintings, splitting money from the sales with his associate, prosecutors said. His lawyer says the auctioneer—now facing up to five years in prison on a charge of lying to the FBI—did so "in desperation" as he was "drowning in medical debt after battling cancer for decades" and feared losing his health insurance, per the AP. Several people paid about $15,000 for 25 works, one of the owners said, per the Times. Barzman said he was later offered up to $15,000 to sign a notarized document stating the paintings had come from the unit, which he did, though he said he was never paid. Even now, some owners remain convinced that the paintings are genuine Basquiats, per the Times, though authorities say they are sorely mistaken. (More fraud stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.