Art Carny, Part 3: The Price of Frame

What to even caption this? image via

In 2016, Luna Luna organizer André Heller consigned a forged Jean-Michel Basquiat work to a very respectable dealer in Vienna, who made a pitchbook for it and took it to TEFAF in 2017. Heller made a frame out of painted broomsticks studded with nails, and bound together with twine. Heller cut up some of Basquiat’s little sketches that Heller had enlarged for the artist’s Luna Luna ferris wheel, collaged them around the frame, and then painted over them. Heller put a Basquiat head, a work on paper he bought in 1990 from Robert Miller Gallery, in the forged frame.

They were presented together, and available separately, as separate works: Untitled (1983) and Untitled (Frame) 1987. At TEFAF the drawing was $2 million, and the frame was $3 million. In the dealer’s catalogue for the work, Heller was interviewed by curator Dieter Buchhart, a leading expert on Basquiat, who asked repeatedly for details and context about the creation of the frame. Over and over, Heller spoke specifically, to make it sound like Basquiat made it, without explicitly saying he did. He talked about the idea, how he helped with the nails, because there were so many. It was part of the collaboration for Luna Luna. Heller connected the frame to Vodou, and said that Basquiat considered it an altar.

The drawing sold after TEFAF, and then the frame to go with it, for EUR800,000. At some point, the whole thing started to unravel, as Basquiat’s former assistant, and later Buchhart, called bullshit on the frame. Heller bought it back, unwinding the deal before it hit the media, and caught the attention of Viennese authorities, who decided not to pursue the fraud. Heller dismissed his actions as a “childish prank,” and his statements to Buchhart as an attempt to trip up a self-proclaimed Basquiat expert. He tried to get out of his forgery hole by saying he’d always just presented the frame as *A* frame with Basquiat drawings stuck to it, but his buyer called bullshit on that.

And so did Heller himself. Here [pdf] is the interview he arranged with Buchhart, published by the dealer he consigned with, to sell the forged Basquiat concoction he made and lied about. There was a lot of bullshit flying around the world in 2016, and this interview is definitely some of it.

And all of this was coming out literally at the moment Live Nation was buying Luna Luna and extracting it from its shipping containers for the first time in decades. So wild.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Wienerbroither & Kollbacher [pdf, aws/amazon]
2022: A work attributed to Basquiat at TEFAF was made by André Heller [artnews]
2023: Viennese prosecutors drop investigation into artist who forged Basquiat painting’s frame as a ‘prank’ [artnews]