On November 15, 2012, an indictment charging Brian Ramnarine, owner of Empire Bronze Art Foundry, with attempting to sell a bronze sculpture that he falsely represented to be a genuine work of art by Jasper Johns was unsealed in federal court in New York. Ramnarine was arrested at his home in Queens, New York, on the same day.
Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a press release: "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 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."
According to court documents, in 1960 Johns created a metallic collage on canvas titled Flag. Although Johns gave the work to another artist, he retained the flag mold.
In or about 1990, Johns provided the flag mold to Ramnarine, instructing him to use the mold to make a wax cast. Ramnarine completed the wax cast and gave it to Johns but never returned to Johns the flag mold from which the wax cast was made.
In March 2010, Ramnarine, through an agent, is alleged to have represented to the art world that he owned a bronze sculpture titled Flagthat was an authorized Jasper Johns work of art created in 1989. He showed it to a representative of an auction house and to an art dealer. Authorities allege that around the same time, Ramnarine also attempted to sell sculpture directly to an art collector for $11 million.
The indictment alleges that after the collector expressed doubts about the authenticity of the bronze sculpture, Ramnarine provided "false and fraudulent" documents and information in an effort to deceive the art collector into believing that the artwork was genuine. For example, Ramnarine stated that the sculpture was a gift from Johns. To support that assertion, Ramnarine provided an art broker with a letter dated August 23, 1989, that was purportedly from Johns, along with other documents that falsely and fraudulently reflected that the sculpture was a genuine work of art by Johns, and that it was owned by Ramnarine.
In May 2010, Ramnarine and others met with the art collector's representative at an art storage facility in Manhattan. During this meeting, Ramnarine showed the art collector's representative the bronze sculpture and provided additional documents that purported to show the sculpture's authenticity and provenance.
The bronze sculpture was a fake, it is charged. Johns never authorized its production, nor did he transfer ownership to Ramnarine. Instead, in or about 1990, against Johns' earlier instructions and without authorization, Ramnarine allegedly used the original flag mold provided by Johns to make the sculpture, dated it "1989," and forged Johns' signature on the back of the sculpture.
Mary Galligan, FBI acting assistant director-in-charge, said, "While the defendant had possession of the mold for Flag, he had no authority to make the bronze casting he allegedly attempted to sell as a legitimate Jasper Johns work of art. He crafted a convincing sculpture, and he crafted a litany of lies and deceptions to peddle it."
Ramnarine, 58, is charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison.
Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2012 Maine Antique Digest