NY Man Arrested For $11 Million Fake Jasper Johns Sculpture Scheme

on November 16 2012 1:19 PM
Jasper Johns
American artist Jasper Johns has produced a distinguished body of work dealing with themes of perception and identity since the mid-1950s. Among his best known works are depictions of familiar objects and signs, including flags, targets and numbers. He has incorporated innovative approaches to materials and techniques, and his work has influenced pop, minimal, and conceptual art. REUTERS

A Queens, N.Y. man has been arrested for trying to sell an $11 million fake Jasper Johns sculpture. The man tried to sell a bronze sculpture and was charged with one count of wire fraud.

Brian Ramnarine, of Queens, owns the Empire Bronze Art Foundry in Long Island City, the New York Daily News said. According to a FBI statement, Jasper Johns had given Ramnarine a mold of his 1960 sculpture “Flag” in 1990 to create a wax mold. Although the wax mold was completed and given to Johns, Ramnarine never returned the original mold.

In 2010, Ramnarine began trying to sell what he claimed to be an authentic Johns sculpture, titled “1989 Bronze Flag” using the same mold that Johns had given to him earlier. Ramnarine began to get the word out to the art community, discussing the sculpture with an auction house representative and even tried to sell the fake sculpture to an art dealer, the FBI said.

Ramnarine had created a bronze sculpture using the original “Flag” mold and forged Johns' signature on the work. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement that the man “also cast a wide net in his efforts to pawn it off on the art world as a multi-million-dollar masterpiece. Notwithstanding the forged documents and tales of friendship with the great artist Jasper Johns that he used to prove the sculpture’s provenance, he got caught and will now be forced to answer for his alleged fraud.”

Johns is an American artist primarily known for his flag and map paintings and his work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as well as the Whitney Museum of American Art. His paintings can bring in millions of dollars.

In 1988, Johns' “White Flag” painting sold for $7 million while in 2007 his “Figure 4” painting sold for $17.4 million in a Christie's auction, reports Artinfo. In 2006, Jasper's “False Start” was sold for $80 million to Kenneth C. Griffin, reports The New York Times. In 2010, an American flag painting that was owned by Michael Crichton, the popular author who passed away in 2008, sold for $28.6 million, Bloomberg reported.

In 2010, Ramnarine tried to sell the fake Johns sculpture to an art collector. In order to convince the collect to buy the sculpture for $11 million, Ramnarine claimed it was a gift from Johns, forged documents to prove its authenticity and was an authorized work by the famed American artist. Ramnarine was arrested at his Queens home and plead not guilty to the wire fraud charge. He was released on $250,000 bond, the New York Daily News said.

This was not the first art scam Ramnarine tried to pull. In 2002, Ramnarine sold forged metal sculptures by Saint Clair Cemin, Joel Fischer and Kenny Scharf to two art collectors, according to the Queens District Attorney. For that scheme, Ramnarine was sentenced to five years of probation and was ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution, the New York Daily News said.

If convicted, Ramnarine could face 20 years in jail.

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