A North Hollywood man has agreed to plead guilty to lying to FBI agents about the origins of paintings attributed to Jean-Michel Basquiat that were seized last year from the Orlando Museum of Art.
Michael Barzman, 45, was charged in federal court with making false statements to the FBI during an August 2022 interview where he denied making any of the fraudulent paintings himself. However, according to a release from the FBI, Barzman and a second man, identified in court documents as “J.F.”, began creating the fake Basquiat paintings in 2012 after “hatching a plan to market the bogus artwork.”
“J.F. and Barzman created approximately 20 to 30 artworks by using various art materials to create colorful images on cardboard,” according to the plea agreement. “Barzman and J.F. agreed to split the money that they made from selling the fraudulent paintings.”
“J.F. spent a maximum of 30 minutes on each image and as little as five minutes on others, and then gave them to Barzman to sell on eBay,” the plea agreement added.
Barzman ran an auction business in 2012 that focused on purchasing and reselling contents from unpaid storage units. He admitted to attempting to create a false provenance, or history of ownership of a piece of art, for the purported Basquiats by claiming in a notarized document that the fraudulent paintings were found inside the rented storage unit of a well-known screenwriter.
The fake pieces of art were sold and made their way through the art market and eventually formed the basis of an exposition at the Orlando Museum of Art that opened in February 2022. The following June, the FBI executed a search warrant at the museum and seized 25 pieces that were purportedly created by Basquiat.
In another interview with the FBI in October 2022, Barzman admitted that the artwork did not come from a storage locker but still claimed that it was not created by him.
“He continued to deny making the fraudulent paintings even after agents showed him the back of a painting on cardboard seized from the Orlando Museum of Art in which his name appears on a mailing label that had been painted over,” the FBI said in a statement.
In Barzman’s plea agreement, which was filed on Tuesday, he agreed to plead guilty to the felony offense of making false statements to a government agency. He has agreed to surrender to federal authorities for a court appearance that has not been scheduled yet.
Making false statements to a government agency carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.