Fake Basquiat paintings sold on eBay have led to a former auctioneer pleading guilty to fraud and lying to the FBI in California.

Jean Michel-Basquiat was a Puerto Rican artist who got famous as a graffiti artist and ended up selling to international galleries and museums. His art was about social reflections, such as wealth versus poverty and segregation versus integration, and often integrated texts and images together to make his works. He died at only 27 years old, at the height of his success.

Despite a career that lasted less than a decade, Basquiat produced over 2100 pieces. He drew constantly, everywhere and on everything. This has made him a prime target for forgers – there is not and will likely never be a comprehensive catalog of his works.

In 2012, Michael Barzman, an art auctioneer, began selling artworks that he alleged were by Basquiat on eBay, and through his business. He claimed that he’d found them in the storage unit of a well-known (but unnamed) screenwriter.

In reality, Barzman had made them himself, using various art materials on cardboard to imitate Basquiat’s style.

For years, the fake Basquiat paintings sold by Barzman and his partner, known only as J.F., passed through various hands of galleries and private owners until several wound up in an exhibit in the Orlando Museum of Art in 2022, where they would be seized by the FBI’s counterfeit division. During their investigation, Barzman was interviewed, and he claimed at the time that he did not making the paintings.

But in a plea agreement entered by Barzman on Tuesday, he has testified that he and J.F. Made “20 to 30” fake Basquiat paintings to sell to collectors. His charges are that he made false statements to the FBI when interviewed last year, which carries a potential sentence of five years in federal prison.

It is probably not a coincidence that Barzman and his partner began selling their fake Basquiat paintings mere months after the authentication committee of Basquiat’s estate dissolved itself.

Photo: photocritical / Shutterstock