FBI agents at the Orlando Museum of Art Orlando, Florida, Friday, June 24, 2022. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Michael Barzman, a former auctioneer from Hollywood, California, has recently pled guilty to charges related to the creation and sale of fake Basquiat paintings that were seized by the FBI from the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) in 2022.

The scandal came to light in February 2022 when the OMA was showcasing an exhibition titled “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat.” It was revealed that Barzman and an accomplice had created the fake Basquiat paintings in 2012 using art materials on cardboard, and then sold them on eBay. The paintings eventually made their way to the OMA, where they were displayed as authentic works by Basquiat.

The scandal resulted in swift changes at the OMA, with the museum’s former director being ousted by the board of trustees just four days after the raid. Further investigation revealed that the chair of the OMA board had withheld information about an FBI subpoena that was sent to the museum in July 2021, almost seven months before the exhibition opened.

In August 2022, Barzman pled guilty to giving false statements to a government agency, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. The OMA released a statement expressing its commitment to its mission and efforts to realign the institution with its values. The museum has also taken steps to support employees impacted by the scandal and has been working with the American Alliance of Museums to repair its standing.

The scandal involving fake Basquiat paintings has raised concerns about the authenticity of artworks in the art market. Basquiat is a highly regarded artist whose works command millions of dollars. With the increasing demand for Basquiat’s works, there has been a rise in cases of forgery and counterfeit artworks in recent years.

This case serves as a reminder of the importance of due diligence and thorough authentication processes in the art market. It highlights the need for museums, collectors, and buyers to exercise caution and conduct thorough research before acquiring artworks. The OMA case also underscores the role of law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting art crimes to protect the integrity of the art world.

The OMA has expressed its eagerness for the DOJ to continue its investigation and hold those responsible for the crimes accountable. The museum remains grateful for the support of its employees, supporters, and community throughout this challenging time. The case has shed light on the need for improved governance and whistleblower protections in the museum industry.

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