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Brian Ramnarine’s “1989 Bronze Flag,” aka NOT a Jasper Johns sculpture

The owner of a foundry in Long Island City was arrested yesterday for allegedly making a bronze sculpture and trying to pass it off as an original Jasper Johns. But this isn’t quite your run-of-the-mill art fraud, because the man, Brian Ramnarine, actually has a real mold from Johns; the artist gave it to him in 1990 to make a wax cast for the 1960 sculpture “Flag.” Or at least Ramnarine did have the mold at one point — he insists that it was destroyed 12 years ago when he was evicted from his apartment. Which still means he never returned it to Johns.

According to Gothamist, quoting from the US Attorney’s press release, Ramnarine shopped around his fraudulent “Frag” — which he named “1989 Bronze Flag” — to a number of people: an auction house specialist, an art dealer, and a collector. Not sure if auction house specialist was the way to go on that one, buddy, but then again, the whole thing shows poor judgment, considering Ramnarine actually tried to pull a similar hoax ten years ago and ended up on five years’ probation and with a $100,000 restitution payment. (That time he pleaded guilty to falsifying business records.)

Posthumous casting is actually a tricky subject: with someone like Rodin, who authorized it, the question of what’s a truly authentic work of art becomes much more complicated. But the US Attorney’s press release states, about the Ramnarine piece, that “Johns never authorized its production nor did he transfer ownership to RAMNARINE,” which pretty much means Ramnarine was trying to make a bunch of money; he was, after all, asking for $11 million.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...