Alfredo Martinez, Artist Who Faked Basquiats and Organized an Anna Delvey Show, Dies at 56

Alfredo Martinez, a New York–based artist who grabbed headlines for faking Basquiat paintings and organizing a show of Anna Delvey’s art, died on August 21 at 56, according to various posts on social media, including one from the actor Adrien Brody.

Brody called Martinez “an inspiration and a friend who always tried to help me along my path as an artist.”

Julia Morrison, a close friend of Martinez who co-organized the Delvey show, confirmed his passing, saying that he had been battling diabetes. She said that Martinez died with multiple film and television projects and a solo exhibition of original works planned, and that a memorial was being organized. His family asked for privacy.

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A man with white hair and a striped vest holding his hands up.

Martinez’s larger-than-life persona and art became a source of fascination in New York, where his works about guns found a loyal following. One is currently held by the Museum of Modern Art.

Discussions of his art typically follow mention of his arrest in 2002 by the FBI. Martinez had attempted to sell 17 forged Basquiat paintings that were based on real ones and was given a 27-month prison sentence as a result. Much later on, he claimed that he had forged works by Keith Haring as well.

In 2021, he explained his choice to fake Basquiat’s work, saying, “My personal take is perhaps Basquiat was doing a bit of a gag, because his early work was more cartoons, so he wanted to make things for the ‘art world,’ so his idea was to copy Picasso, who was copying Black art from Africa.”

At the time of his arrest, Martinez had already earned a reputation for making art about guns. He had served as a studio assistant to the artist Donald Baechler at one point, and was at the time starting to make a name for himself. Yet he struggled to make a living, at one point even sleeping in a container near the Gowanus Canal, as the critic Anthony Haden-Guest once reported.

While incarcerated, Martinez continued to make art—and even twice went on hunger strikes when guards refused to let him do so, since art was not legally allowed in New York prisons at the time. Using coffee grounds, pen, pencil, and mashed-up pieces of paper, he created images of guns, which were then smuggled out and sold and exhibited by galleries. “His own work was always interesting—it included hand-fabricated guns—but prison has taken it to a new level,” Haden-Guest wrote in New York Magazine.

Alfredo Martinez was born April 15, 1967. The Village Voice reported that he had labeled his father “a Puerto Rican Archie Bunker” and that his mother was “manic depressive.” Martinez had been born in Brooklyn and had run away from his home at age 16.

By the time he was 20, Martinez had begun producing his forgeries. Sensing that they were no longer bankable sometime around 1989, he moved to Brussels and became an arms dealer. Then, when he was 21, he returned to the US and enlisted in the Army, which sent him to Europe. Having flirted with what he called “the loan sharking business” while enlisted, he was returned to the US, where, starting in 1993, he committed to being an artist.

During the ’90s and 2000s, Martinez showed his art around New York and curated gallery exhibitions. He was included in the 1999 P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center exhibition “Generation Z,” which sought to broadly explore the kinds of work emerging artists were making at the end of the millennium. His CV listed appearances in shows at vaunted New York spaces like Exit Art and Pat Hearn Gallery, the latter in an exhibition curated by Diego Cortez and David Greenberg.

In 2004, while the dealer James Fuentes mounted a show called “The Unites States of America vs. Alfredo Martinez,” which featured artworks Martinez had smuggled out of prison. The Village Voice reported that it had been successful.

Martinez cultivated the mythology that surrounded his celebrity in New York. He claimed to have shot Kenny Schachter, then his dealer, with a blank at the Gramercy Hotel Fair. He spent time in China, and claimed to have met Ai Weiwei there before being imprisoned and secretly tortured after getting in trouble for searching information about guns at an internet cafe. He even ran a shooting gallery in a Tribeca basement with the help of entrepreneur Josh Harris.

In 2022, with the artist Julia Morrison, he organized an exhibition of works credited to Anna Delvey, who had grifted members of the art world and was undergoing a prison sentence for it. “It caught me right in the feels, someone making sarcastic drawings in prison,” he told Artnet News.

Technically, the Delvey works included, featuring vampy versions of herself, were drawn by Martinez, who had essentially willed the show into being by placing an article in the New York Post in which he stated that the exhibition should exist. She was not able to produce drawings at such a large scale due to prison restrictions, and so Martinez decided to produce them for her with her permission.

Few other artists represented in the MoMA’s collection can say they have connections to Delvey—or even to have been arrested for faking art. “My career now would be more established if I didn’t waste my time with forgeries,” he told Cell Vision in 2021.

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