• gerard van weyenbergh

Exhibition of 35 fake Basquiat drawings?

35 drawings presented this fall as unpublished by Jean-Michel Basquiat, in a new gallery in Nuits-Saint-Georges in Burgundy, are causing controversy. Several great connoisseurs of the artist suspect them of being false.

Installed at the foot of the vineyards, the Volcano gallery, located in Nuits-Saint-Georges (Côte-d'Or), wanted to strike hard by presenting for its first exhibition 35 unpublished drawings by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The works are on loan from a Burgundian collector, Dominique Viano.

A true fairy tale for fans of Basquiat, a huge legend of contemporary art with his universe crossed by rage and anger against racism. Basquiat, a gifted shooting star, produced around 800 paintings in eight years and over 1,500 drawings. Known as The Radiant Child, Basquiat died of an overdose in 1988 at the age of 28.

Canvases and drawings at a price of gold.

In the early 1980s, he was selling his production for $ 50 for cash or drugs. Today, he who wrote on a canvas " not for sale " ("not for sale"), sees his value smash records. On May 18, 2017, one of his paintings depicting a black man's head with a fearful gaze on a blue background sold for over $ 110 million at Sotheby's. His drawings fetch high prices: more than 15 million dollars for drawing a blue head with green hair.

This is to say if when it opens, the Nuits-Saint-Georges exhibition is an event. In the small gallery, the drawings made in pastel and in grease pencil are presented unframed, in display cases. They are mostly heads with bulging eyes and mixed colors. We find there the iconic symbols of Basquiat: crowns, teeth, a car, and often crossed out words like: radioactivity, Rabelais, Orion" or Cassiopée.

But we immediately feel a slight discomfort in front of these faces with overloaded colors, even scribbled, because they do not let emerge the power of fear and revolt aroused by the human figures transcended by the child of Brooklyn.

On the left, a drawing attributed to Basquiat, refused for sale by the house Pierre Bergé & Associés in 2018 but exhibited at Nuits-Saint-Georges in 2020. On the right, a painting by Basquiat sold for $ 110 million in 2017. • Credits: Isabel Pasquier - Radio France

For a whistleblower, these are fakes.

When Richard Rodriguez, a great connoisseur of the New York painter, discovers these drawings while viewing a report from France 3, he gets angry. For him, there is no doubt: these drawings are fakes. And even bad fakes. " They gave these drawings a childish side, as if Basquiat were a schoolboy, he storms. It's very sketchy for a child, but it's not Basquiat. It's too small for work. It's missing spontaneity; Basquiat never mixed colors like that. If Basquiat had done that, he would never have been famous! "

Richard Rodriguez is not an official Basquiat expert. Still, his knowledge of the artist's work gives him this status in the eyes of several auction houses who consult him for his opinion on the authenticity of a work. In 1994, he unmasked four fake paintings by Basquiat sold on the stand of the prestigious Templon gallery at Fiac (International Contemporary Art Fair, in Paris). They were made by a former assistant to the artist, Zadik Zadikian. This landed him a defamation suit from the gallery owner, which he won - murdered banker Edouard Stern was among the buyers who got cheated.

Another dubious element pointed out by this art whistleblower: the quality of the paper used. Far too fragile for Basquiat's nervous, angry gesture, still under the tension of urgency. " These drawings, if they were from Basquiat, they would be worth between 500,000 and two million euros each! Did they buy them between 500,000 and 2 million euros each? That's wrong. And me, I'm ready to testify in court if necessary. "

Another supposedly drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat, also refused for sale by Pierre Bergé & Associés in 2018 and exhibited at Nuits-Saint-Georges in 2020. • Credits: Isabel Pasquier - Radio France

Little credible attestations

At the origin of this exhibition, there is a man, Dominique Viano, who led a rather romantic life: a graduate of the National School of Fine Arts in Dijon, he worked as a professor of letters, TV producer, and writer after having been a diamond dealer and art dealer. He likes to say that he met Andy Warhol when he frequented the Parisian jet set around Jacques de Bascher, the companion of Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent's lover.

He refutes all these criticisms and claims to have acquired these drawings legally. " I bought them from a French collector, who bought them himself from an American collector, David Rosen. David Rosen bought them mainly at the Mudd Club [legendary New York underground club of the 80s] from Jean-Michel Basquiat ", he explains to the investigation unit of Radio France.

We were able to obtain certificates of provenance that confirm these statements. But when you look at them, they don't seem very credible. These documents could not be easier to produce, making the specialists to whom we presented them smile. According to these attestations, David Rosen, a collector from Rochester, New York, purchased 89 drawings by Basquiat from the artist at the Mudd Club he was attending at the time. Between 2012 and 2014, David Rosen sold these 89 drawings to a young collector in the Saint-Etienne region. Then in 2017, this young collector resold 31 of them to Dominique Viano. But on these summary papers does not appear the amount of the transaction.

"No one in the world has so many drawings."

" No one in the world owns so many drawings, privately or in a museum , for his part, maintains Nordine Zidoun, a gallery owner who exhibited Basquiat. In the Nuits-Saint-Georges exhibition, there were 50 to 60 million dollars! It's just impossible! What value have these designs been insured for? Let them show the insurance value, to prove their good faith. If they don't, then they are in bad faith. "Nordine Zidoun specifies that when he himself made a Basquiat exhibition, the insurer had imposed draconian security conditions on him, to the point of requiring bars on the windows of his gallery. The many precautions are not taken in the Burgundian gallery.

Another disturbing element: in 2018, Dominique Viano had sought to sell four of these drawings. They were then refused by the Pierre Bergé & Associés auction house. Then consulted, Richard Rodriguez, had already considered that it was fake. In addition, we were able to find via his Facebook account the young collector of Saint-Etienne who is supposed to have sold them to Dominique Viano. He refused to answer our questions and appeared very concerned that he had been identified.

© France Culture -