L.A. auctioneer admits guilt in Basquiat forged-art scam

Paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art.
Paintings said to be by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat on display at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 1 in Orlando, Fla. On June 24, the FBI raided the museum and seized more than two dozen paintings attributed to Basquiat following questions about their authenticity.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

On the heels of a new Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition opening in Los Angeles — one that purports to get to the truth of who the late artist really was — news regarding Basquiat forgeries, shown in a different exhibition in 2022 and unrelated to the Basquiat estate, has come to light.

Los Angeles auctioneer Michael Barzman on Tuesday admitted to lying to the FBI last year about Basquiat forgeries exhibited in 2022 at the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida and to helping create the fake artworks.

Barzman, 45, of North Hollywood, agreed to plead guilty to the felony on Tuesday. In court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, Barzman admitted to creating 20 to 30 fake Basquiat artworks together with a man identified in the documents only as “J.F.” and said that the two agreed to sell the forgeries and split the profits. According to the filings, J.F. spent between five and 30 minutes knocking out each work, and Barzman sold them on eBay. J.F. has not been charged yet, according to a representative for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California.


The fake artworks ended up on view in the Orlando exhibition, “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat,” which opened in February 2022. The FBI raided the museum in June and seized all 25 works. The exhibition was to set to close on June 30, and the works were slated to next show in Italy.

Regarding the provenance of the works, the museum said the owners of the art had stated that they’d been found in an L.A. storage unit in 2012 that had belonged to the late Emmy Award-winning writer and producer Thaddeus Mumford. As the false story went: The works had been created in 1982, when Basquiat was living at art dealer Larry Gagosian’s Venice Beach home and preparing for a new exhibition, but the artist instead sold the works to Mumford.

The OMA board fired the museum’s director and chief executive, Aaron De Groft, on June 28.

Regarding Tuesday’s news, OMA Board Chairman Mark Elliott said in a statement that the “Orlando Museum of Art awaits the investigation’s conclusion and hopes it brings justice to all victims.”

“In the wake of this ongoing investigation,” Elliott added, “the Orlando Museum of Art has recommitted itself to its mission to provide excellence in the visual arts with its exhibitions, collections, and educational programming.”

“Basquiat lived with me for over a year and painted a lot of wonderful paintings then, but that has nothing to do with these paintings that were obviously false,” Gagosian told The Times. “It sounds as if they were just trying to fabricate this ridiculous story. The [forged] paintings [at OMA] spoke for themselves — they were just not right.”

Meanwhile, the Basquiat exhibition that recently opened downtown at the Grand LA provides more information about the artist’s time spent living in L.A. between 1982 and 1984, both in Gagosian’s home and in a Venice Beach studio the artist rented.


The show, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure,” is curated and executive produced by the artist’s sisters, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux. When contacted by The Times, Basquiat and Heriveaux declined to comment on the Barzman news.

The investigation is still open, and a court date for Barzman is forthcoming.

‘Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure,’ produced by the late artist’s sisters, features more than 200 paintings, drawings and ephemera from the family’s estate, and immersive re-creations of places important to him.

March 29, 2023