The art world was rocked by the news of Michael Barzman’s guilty plea to selling fake Jean Michel-Basquiat paintings. The former auctioneer from 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.
Barzman and a second man, known only as “J.F.”, started creating counterfeit artworks back in 2012, using various art materials to create colorful images on cardboard. The duo then sold their fake pieces on eBay and through Barzman’s auction business, splitting the profits between them.
The scheme was so successful that the fake artworks made their way through the art industry and ended up being featured in an exhibit in the Orlando Museum of Art. “Most of the featured works had, in fact, been created by Barzman and J.F.”, Barzman admitted in his plea agreement.
Barzman also lied about where the paintings came from, claiming that he found them in a well-known screenwriter’s storage unit. But the FBI seized 25 of the counterfeit pieces from the museum in June 2022, and Barzman’s lies caught up with him when he was interviewed in August and October 2022.
Making false statements to a government agency carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, and Barzman is set to be sentenced later this year.
The case has highlighted the issue of counterfeit art and the lengths that some individuals will go to make money. The world of art is often viewed as a refined and sophisticated realm, but it’s not immune to fraud and deception.
The story of Michael Barzman’s guilty plea is a cautionary tale for anyone considering investing in high-value works of art. It’s essential to exercise caution and purchase from reputable sources, especially when it comes to popular artists like Jean Michel-Basquiat,
The case also raises questions about the art industry’s vetting process and the responsibility that auction houses and galleries have in ensuring the authenticity of the works they sell. The art world must take steps to prevent such frauds from happening again.
The story of Michael Barzman’s counterfeit Basquiat paintings serves as a reminder that the art world is not always what it seems. It’s a world of beauty and deception, and it’s up to buyers, sellers, and industry professionals to ensure that authenticity is always a top priority.
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