An auctioneer who admitted to assisting in the creation of several forgeries of Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings was spared jail time on Friday and was given a probationary period and community service instead.
The case was associated with the controversy around a Basquiat exhibition scheduled to take place at the Florida’s Orlando Museum of Art in 2022.
The FBI raid, termination of the museum’s director, and ongoing legal action were all sparked by the show.
A collection of pieces that, according to the museum’s then-director Aaron De Groft, were created in 1982 while the artist was residing in Los Angeles were on display. After that, he claimed, they were put in storage and forgotten about. De Groft claimed they were major rediscoveries.
But once the New York Times published an inquiry that questioned the veracity of these works, scepticism began to grow.
The FedEx typeface that was used in one of these paintings caught the attention of a branding expert.
He claimed that this typeface was not first used by the shipping industry until 1994, more than ten years after the purported production of these works.
Federal authorities questioned Michael Barzman, the auctioneer who was today given a probationary sentence, after the FBI investigated the 25 artworks and confiscated them in a dramatic raid that made international news.
He said he had no involvement in the creation of the works when he spoke to them in 2022.
Then, in 2023, he admitted to lying to the FBI about this and said that he had created a bogus provenance for the artworks when he entered his plea of guilty.
That provenance was meant to provide as proof for the storage unit story. De Groft and two other co-owners of the paintings have asserted that Barzman is lying.
The punishment that Barzman ultimately received was what LA prosecutors had sought. The New York Times, which broke the news, claimed that Barzman “had a difficult life, physically and emotionally,” as well as “substance abuse and financial difficulties.”
500 hours of community service, three years of probation, and a $500 fine make up his sentence. According to Barzman’s attorney, the auctioneer told the Times “is never going to reoffend.”
The legal drama is still ongoing, as is the probe into the phoney Basquiats. The Orlando Museum of Art sued De Groft earlier this week after firing him shortly after the FBI raid in the summer of 2022.
The museum asserts that De Groft tried to make money by including the Basquiats in the exhibition and that he was also trying to do the same with Titian and Jackson Pollock works that weren’t on display. He has denied his wrongdoing.