Federal agents arrested the owner of a Long Island City foundry last Thursday after he allegedly attempted to sell a fake replica of Jasper Johns’ “Flag” for $11 million.
Brian Ramnarine, 58, pleaded not guilty to a wire fraud charge in Manhattan Federal Court and was released on a $250,000 bond.
According to documents released by the U.S. Attorney’s office, the alleged attempted swindle went like this:
Johns, the famous American artist known for his Russian doll-like painting of an American flag within a flag within a flag, created a patriotic bronze sculpture in 1960 entitled “Flag.” Decades later, in 1990, he allegedly asked Ramnarine, owner of Empire Bronze Art Foundry, to create a wax cast of it.
Ramnarine, who documents say had a reputation for being a “highly skilled” caster of bronze sculptures, allegedly created the cast and then gave it back to Johns, but never returned the original mold.
Then 20 years later in the spring of 2010, Ramnarine allegedly began shopping around what he called a Johns-authorized 1989 “Flag.” FBI documents say he showed the piece to a few art specialists as well as allegedly attempting to sell the piece for about $11 million directly to an art collector who questioned the work’s authenticity.
Ramnarine provided documents that “proved” the authenticity, the FBI said, adding that Johns gifted the sculpture to Ramnarine. He also allegedly told the collector he could set up a meeting between him and Johns; however, the FBI says that Ramnarine no longer had a relationship with the 82-year-old artist and had no ability to do so.
The documents go on to say the papers were all fake, just like the signature on the back of the bronze.
“As alleged, Brian Ramnarine not only cast a fake sculpture in his foundry shop, but he also cast a wide net in his efforts to pawn it off on the art world as a multimillion-dollar masterpiece,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. “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.”
And this isn’t the first time Ramnarine has been accused of creating fake replicas. In November 2003 Queens District Attorney Richard Brown sentenced Ramnarine to five years probation and ordered him to pay $100,000 in restitution for defrauding two wealthy art collectors. He sold the two individuals metal sculptures, which he claimed were genuine, but in fact were unauthorized copies Ramnarine had created.
If convicted Ramnarine faces 20 years in prison.