New York metal shop owner gets prison for copying Jasper Johns art

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 16, 2014 1:30 PM

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York metal shop owner was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison on Thursday for trying to pass off a sculpture he made as a Jasper Johns creation, as well as other inauthentic artwork.

Brian Ramnarine, 60, pleaded guilty in January in the midst of his criminal trial in New York to attempting to sell a bronze sculpture he made from a mold of Johns’ iconic 1960 work, “Flag,” for more than $10 million. Johns, a renowned modern painter and sculptor, testified as a witness at trial.

U.S. District Judge John Koeltl imposed the sentence on Thursday in Manhattan federal court.

Asked whether he had anything to say before his sentencing, a subdued Ramnarine told Koeltl only that he was sorry for bringing shame to his family.

In January, Ramnarine also admitted to selling artwork he falsely claimed was created by two other artists, Brazilian-born sculptor and painter Saint Clair Cemin and American pop art sculptor Robert Indiana.

As part of the sentence, Koeltl ordered Ramnarine to pay restitution of $34,250 to an online art gallery, Ro Gallery, which had purchased the fake Cemin and Indiana art.

Johns, who is known for employing popular culture images in his artwork, commissioned Ramnarine in 1990 to create a wax cast from a mold of his painting. But Ramnarine kept the mold without permission, Johns testified at the trial.

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"Brian Ramnarine’s only art was as a con artist who concocted and carried out not one, but three separate schemes to peddle fake sculptures to unsuspecting buyers for millions of dollars," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

Ramnarine is the second defendant in New York to face prosecution for ripping off Johns’ artwork. In August, Johns’ former assistant, James Meyer, pleaded guilty to selling almost two dozen of the artist’s works without permission.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Andrew Hay)