An artist sold a fake ‘Basquiat’ frame for $780,000 at a major art fair. Now he says it was a prank

A wooden photo frame attributed to Jean-Michel Basquiat and offered for $3 million to TEFAF New York in 2017 was presented as a fake by the artist who sold it, André Heller, according to an article in the Austrian newspaper Sway.

Heller made the misattribution during a conversation with art historian and leading Basquiat expert Dieter Buchhart in 2016. He has now dismissed the scandal as a farce.

Whatever its label, Heller benefited financially when he successfully sold the frame for €800,000 ($780,000) in 2018 – with the clause “there is no certificate of authenticity” written in it. the sales contract.

“I am a lucky person and yet I am not putting myself in danger by being accused of forgery,” he said. Sway.

In an apparent act of damage control, Heller has since repurchased the frame and admitted lying in 2016.

Austrian artist, musician and author, Heller first tried to sell the fake object with a real Basquiat drawing in 2017, first at TEFAF Maastricht and then in New York via the Viennese gallery Wienerroither and Kohlbacher.

The frame bears small doodles on paper glued to red painted wood with nails driven into the inner and outer borders. She immediately aroused the suspicions of Basquiat’s former assistant, Stephen Torton, when he toured the fair.

Torton himself made stretcher frames while working in Basquiat’s workshop, often using materials found deliberately removed from the trash, such as old brooms or slats. For this reason, the frames used by Basquiat are often considered as sculptures in their own right.

Given Torton’s familiarity with the techniques used in Basquiat’s workshop, he could see that the frame Heller sold was an imitation. Despite Torton’s longtime suspicions, Heller has only now admitted to claiming the frame was by Basquiat.

Heller met Basquiat in his New York studio in 1986, inviting him to collaborate on the open-air exhibition “Luna Luna” in Hamburg, Germany.

After Basquiat’s death, in 1988, Heller took his drawings which had been made in preparation for the Ferris wheel that Basquiat exhibited at the show and cut them out, pasting them onto Heller’s own makeshift wooden frame.

In the 2017 catalog prepared for TEFAF, Basquiat scholar Buchhart wrote that the “voodoo altar” was instead made by Basquiat with the help of Heller, according to the story told to him by Heller in 2016.

“We went to his studio and did it on the floor. I helped drive the nails in because there were a lot of nails,” Heller said during the chat. “It was perfectly clear to me that it was voodoo,” he said. “We also discussed the fact that many African sculptures have nails.”

When asked why he was tempted to deceive Buchhart, Heller said Sway in a follow-up interview that the specialist “came across as the best Basquiat knower on the planet. After beating me and everyone else with what he knew about Basquiat, the day is came where I wanted to test it.

“It was a kind of tournament between two boys.”

Defending themselves in a statement to art newsBuchhart said, “I have not authenticated the frame and have never claimed to have done so.”

“Oral history is an important source for me as a researcher,” he also said. Swayon his inability to see through Heller’s story.

The report also states that gallery owner Ebi Kohlbacher now claims the frame never went on sale despite listing it in the official TEFAF catalog.

Basquiat’s work was highly improvised and used all sorts of materials, making it difficult to spot all the forgeries making their way onto the market.

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