August 29th, 2023 - New York
Legendary American artist Alfredo Martinez known for his Basquiat forgery scandals and drawings of guns, died in his sleep in New York last week. Alfredo's friends join us here for some memories of the artist...
Alfredo and I met in September 2013 when I curated a pop-up group show at my father’s button shop. I first saw his work at our friend Emil’s apartment: a small pastel purple rifle meticulously traced but haphazardly glued onto cardboard. I messaged Alfredo on Facebook and asked if it was a problem that I had no idea what I was doing and if he minded showing at a Chinatown button shop. He told me he would show at a pig’s bar mitzvah.
A few days before the opening, all the other artists showed up and spent hours installing their paintings. A 6-ft wall was designated for Alfredo’s works, but he was missing and never responded to my calls. As the clock ticked closer to our 7 pm opening, a tall man dressed in black appeared as if he had just come out of a dumpster. He said, 'I need a drill.' His large gun collages were installed in a few minutes and sold out immediately. The press and public never stopped showing up. This was the beginning of our surreal and tumultuous artist/dealer relationship.
Alfredo confessed that before I messaged him on Facebook, he had been sitting at home severely depressed for years because he had come to terms with the fact that his art career was over. He told me his artwork was always either stolen, kept without his permission, or sold and payments withheld. My first few weeks as a curator were spent contacting people in the art world on his behalf and getting cursed out. I found myself traveling throughout the city to places and situations I never wanted to be in, just to collect his art.
Alfredo wasn’t a mythical figure. He wasn’t a court jester. Nor was he some Mad Max-style character sent to entertain my otherwise comfortable and predictable lifestyle. He didn't like being called a street artist because he wasn't. He said, 'I never pasted a goddamn thing in the street. I’m a gallery artist.' He called me his dealer and little sister. I’m glad I was able to enter his life as a lifeline and a positive influence, even if it was only for a few years.
See you later, big brother.
- Amy Leo
I took this photo of Josh Harris & crew outside the New York Federal Courthouse on the first day of the trial of Alfredo Martinez for Art fraud. Nov 19, 2002. Actually they busted him for ‘wire fraud’ technically. That’s Josh Harris, on the left, holding the white ‘Certificate of Athenticity’ banner. Anthony Haden Guest is the 2nd face over from him. Mark and Matt Enger, who silkscreened the ‘Quiet’ resident, in-house crew uniforms, are holding up the red banner, ‘Artists are Whores / Dealers are Pimps’, which they also made. Between them is Jeff Gompertz who designed and fabricated the 99+ totally surveillance wired pod hotel.
- Nancy Smith
Alfredo had a criminal mind. He attempted to get me to work with him on his forgery scheme. He told me he had faked the two Basquiats I had loaned him for Na'er Do Wells, and laid out his proposal. I refused and my testimony in court against Alfredo put him in jail.
- Tom Warren
Alfredo Martinez was larger than life, an inspiration and a friend who always tried to help me along my path as an artist.
He spotted me through the window of my storefront studio on the Bowery back in 2016 and came in “guns blazing,” armed with stories and brandishing an arsenal of colorful gun paintings that I was so enamored with, I bought them on the spot.
He shared tales of hardship and triumph, he was an original who was also notorious for forging Basquiat, eventually landing him in Rikers. Alfredo passed away last Sunday night. I’m grateful to have known him.
He will be missed.
Rest In Peace, my friend.
- Adrien Brody
Sad to hear. He had a remarkable life.
- Jeffrey Deitch
He never called without a good story in hand, an admirable trait, which inevitably ended with both of us laughing. Alfredo was an entertainer at heart and is already missed. I think Alfredo would like to be remembered as the sinner-turned part-saint. He saved the best of himself for those he considered family. He would most likely quip, watching from above: "don't waste your time thinking about me, go have fun with your girlfriend. I'll be waiting in Heaven getting pointers from Basquiat." What I'll miss most of all was Alfredo's ability to project calmness and optimism over situations that were chaotic - mostly his, but sometimes mine.
Rest in peace my dear friend.
- Steve Maz
A few years after 9/11, I vaguely recall reading an article in the NY Post about an artist who planted a huge sculpture of a cannon right by the entrance of the Holland Tunnel on the Manhattan side. In 2014, I was able to meet that artist, Alfredo Martinez, at Amy Li Projects on Mott Street in NYC.
I learned a lot about Alfredo’s artistic projects over the years. Things like being an armorer for Jim Jarmusch’s movie Ghost Dog; getting in legal trouble in China from a hotel housekeeper reporting drawings of weapons; working with Ai WeiWei and building a gun range for Josh Harris’ “We Live in Public” social experiment in the 90s.
Alfredo curated me in shows and I curated him in a show or two. We even showed together in Tokyo at the Megumi Ogita Gallery.
This gentle giant was one of a kind.
- Brian Leo
"If she's gonna get someone to copy her artwork, it's good she got a Basquiat forger to do it," - Alfredo Martinez.
Indeed, I feel fortunate that Alfredo and I crossed paths. He transcended stereotypes and constraints, leading a life brimming with adventure and excitement.
May he rest in peace, leaving an indelible mark through the body of work he created over his lifetime.
- Anna Delvey
Met Fredo over 30 yrs ago, a dead ringer for Marlon Brando. We both worked in Donald Baechler's studio. Fredo made sculptures & paintings, sometimes copying them. I fetched the post, the times coffee and tube sox for DB's bf in Rikers, sometimes I designed books. Fredo, His fascination with guns always in the forefront. Didn't matter if was it true or not. He curated large group shows - put me in them without me asking.
This gentle giant cast a huge shadow.
- JD Fleishman
I met Alfredo in 2017, and I was truly fascinated by him ever since. We worked together very closely for the past 6 years putting on shows and selling his works to collectors all over the world. I loved his carefree mentality and the way nothing could phase him; not federal prison, not the Chinese secret service, not even a leg amputation. He always had a way to spin a joke out of a tough situation. He was an exceptionally talented artist and a close friend. He was as loyal as they come and would give anything to make sure his friends and family were taken care of.
He will be missed dearly.
- Christopher Martine
You want one of his Fake Basquiat’s, you gotta ask for a “slice of pizza.” He only had one left at the time. I pounced on it, and we became friends.
He was a voracious, rapacious, and mischievous trickster — dead set on turning the art world upside down, with a knowing wink that made you instantly complicitous. It was like meeting a Duchampian Blue Beard, streaming homages to all the rule breakers of art, like Richard Hambleton (Shadowman), especially — and all of us sinners, rotten to the core — while his fierce dog decides whether to eat you — and oh, how he laughed!
- Donald Carroll
Alfredo and I go back to Josh Harris's 'terribility' days in his pluralistic ad-hoc anarchic-art-temple in Tribeca, where he let Martinez set up a real bullet shooting gallery in the basement. While late-day art happenings in the age of Danto's "end of 'isms" were infecting the building vicariously; live surveillance cameras filming everyone everywhere 24/7 for a future voyeuristic downtown flick.
In the many interactions Alfredo and I had at WhiteBox and in overnight NoLiTa-Chinatown computer-game parlors, many wretched, magnetic memories come to mind, but one pitifully stands unfinished.
Begun in a soirèe at an acquaintance of Harris' West Village pad pitching and fundraising for a biographical film where Martinez would unveil the names and whereabouts of the art industry gallerists and collectors. Plus Basquiat's family folk, enshrined in his wheeling and dealing, his now famed Fakes—for which he spent a year at Rikers.
Not for being found guilty of faking Basquiats, but for denying the FBI the pleasure of —verbatim: "ruining my art career by ranting on collectors, donning a hidden mic, interviewing and incriminating buyers and provenance licensor in the shady equation".
Side note of certain interest: Madonna's new pizza delivery-dancer-boyfriend father of her child was willing to gain some 150 pounds to act the part of Alfredo in the purported film.
- Juan Puntes
Alfredo taught me many things about art. Whenever I felt insecure, he’d say ‘Julia, what makes art special is that it comes from you.’ If I’d had a difficult experience: ‘go make work about it.’ He guided, gifted, and gave me a lot — even though that motherfucker died with an outstanding debt of $10,000+ at the Bank of Jelly’s Good Faith. Still, I love that man. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without him.
- Julia Morrison
One of our last conversations was about him hiring me “to recreate the gas station as a set” for the slated Netflix series about his life, which I hope still happens. If it did, I could see Benicio del Toro play Alfredo.
It would be a strange homage to reenact the time Alfredo kicked in an air conditioner to Haring’s studio in order to use his fax machine to secretly contact a dealer to bolster the believability of a fake Haring Alfredo wanted to pass off.
- Linus Correggio
Alfredo was one of the purest souls I’ve ever known. He had a huge heart and he selflessly gave of himself to those he cared about. He was always doing his best to uplift and support them with a kind word or advice - or a massive seafood tower at Balthazar. Alfredo lived through many ups and downs, and throughout it all he kept his sense of humor.
Even more importantly, he kept his soul, and his heart. The world lost an extraordinary person. He was truly one of a kind, and it will not be the same without him. He was one of my closest and dearest friends.
I miss him more than words can say, and I wish more than anything that he was still here with us.
I’ve always considered Alfredo to be my fairy godfather because he was constantly supportive of me and he regarded my art at the highest standard making me a better artist. I’ve known him for almost 20 years. He was always there for me to lend an ear and help in any way he could even if it was just to make me smile - I was lucky enough to consider him family.
He was an amazing friend and an amazing person believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
I love him and I will miss him dearly.
- Jen Brackett Le Roy
Legal illegal - a contraband artist sailing in a sea of useless magical weapons floating in his mind. Alfredo who never spoke Spanish, a hybrid In life and in art, a misfit of extraordinary qualities. He could reproduce drawings by a overrated infantile art brut artist for a price - and go to jail for it.
Alfredo this huge trickster with the hands of professional wrestler but delicate enough to draw a world of crashes and armaments, a post DADA poet of world war for a big guy walking on the road of madness until death.
Save the date and disappear in a cloud of smoke…
Adios Alfredo we all love you.
- Papo Colo
Alfredo Martinez embodied a rare, gentle and charismatic persona that comforted those around him with his truthful and compassionate approach. He supported many artists, providing them opportunities to show their talent in his curatorial projects. Alfredo ensured artists like myself were seen for our raw talent, encouraged me to speak up, to disregard criticisms.
With his rebellious will, he encouraged me to visually express my own truth which is often rejected by those who fear their reflections in the mirror. We only live for a brink of a second in time, and I am grateful Alfredo waltzed into my life when I needed that anchor.
I will miss you comrade and will keep that torch burning to tell our truths as artists. We will surely meet again at the supper table and continue our daily conversations from yesterday.
October 2022I showed up with a Sushi party platter. The photo above is my second visit to see him at the hospital.
- Rina Oh
Jeff Gompertz's Williamsburg loft (where I was flopping) was Alfredo's landing spot after getting a free ticket home via the Chinese Secret Police.
- Josh Luvvy Harris
How Alfredo confronted Death as she screamed in his face: "Shut the fuck up!" Being very pretty, she demanded a single toe, nothing more, nothing less, for which he generously complied. Yet thoroughly unsatisfied, she demanded another token of his love, so he footed one more toe with a gracious smile. And another, she insisted, so he lopped off that one too. And one more, gladly my dear. Till the whole foot was gone, when she demanded a whole leg. "Fuck you!" Alfredo said. "Take it all bitch!"
And off he went to Eternity.
I imagine you died with an irreverent smirk on your face, and a my poor words can never do your sublime Art and Life justice, so hard - I tried.
May you rest in peace my dear friend.
We shall not look upon your like again.
May I be sufficiently blessed to see you again hanging out in Hell with the other Greats.
- Ira Scot Meyerowitz
Alfredo Martinez was a True Artist, but not just an artist - but an artist's artist. A friend and mentor, he inspired many young artists giving them space and materials to create - and sometimes even financial support. Alfredo saw the world in a different way than most, never taking things to seriously and never complaining even when his own foot was mangled and all his toes were amputated. He appreciated the image of his foot as art, sending the picture with a sense of pride and never shame. Part of me still believes this is all a hoax and he is actually still alive somewhere living on an island, he faked his death in order for the price of his artwork to skyrocket.
Regardless of what the truth is he will always live on in the hearts of all the lives he touched. He was a dear friend and I am sad to see him go but if he is really gone, I know in my heart that he is in an art gallery up in heaven laughing with Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Basquiat.
Alfredo was a unique soul.
- Liam McMullan
The late painter Joe Heaps Nelson introduced me to Alfredo Martinez. Over the years, Alfredo and I have curated numerous art shows and collaborated with celebrities and art stars - Adrien Brody, Anna Delvey and Ben Stiller to name a few.
But Alfredo's reach within the art world also extended to Donald Baechler with whom he was an assistant for, and a friendship with artist Tom Sachs.
Alfredo's association with We Live in Public and its creator Josh Harris is well documented.
Alfredo had a unique and defiant sense of art and the art world. He was an outside the grid persona with a detailed knowledge of how the art scene functions on the inside.
He defended his authenticity by announcing to any doubters, "I'm in the MoMA collection, are you?"
- Noah Becker
Alfredo called me up in January of 2021 and asked if I would be in a group show he was putting on. I immediately responded, “Yes of course.” He said he was shocked that I said yes right away. My response was, “Alfredo, you do know your work is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art right?” He just laughed and that was Alfredo- he accomplished one of the greatest achievements possible for an artist, yet was humble enough to be thankful to young emerging artists who he was supporting.
- Natalie White
I'm still trying to process it, the fact that 'Fredo is gone still hasn’t quite sunk in.
We knew each other since we were teenagers, we traveled the world together, lived together, planned, plotted and schemed together, influenced and helped each other in our various endeavors.
He was a year younger than me and somewhere in the back of my mind I still expect him to re-materialize in my life as he has always managed to do before.
A favorite recent photo (above) of Alfredo taken at Lucien after the Stephen Saban benefit in 2018. This was the last time we sat down to have dinner together and just a few months before his first hospital stay.
- Jonathan Jay Goldstein
In 1994, Alfredo Martinez was curating what would now be called a “pop up” show in an empty industrial loft on 13th street in the East Village. It was part of a series of shows named Floating Point Unit organized by Josh Harris - shows that could occur randomly anywhere at any time instead of in a fixed gallery space.
Josh selected Alfredo Martinez to curate a show in this space and Alfredo chose a fin de siècle theme called “Entropy - Detritus of the Late 20th Century”. The theme was on the dark side, so I think of him as the Tim Burton of art curation. Then Alfredo went over to White Columns to look for artists to select for this show. He used the slide registry of artists on file and came upon my work and saw that I had an F89J Scorpion wing fragment that I was showing in an upright orientation as a readymade work of art. It was exactly what he was looking for and White Columns notified me I had been selected for this show.
My airplane fragments were later donated to Hanger B at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn in 2013.
- Sylvie Ball
Josh Harris (born c. 1960) is an American internet entrepreneur and artist. He was the founder of JupiterResearch and Pseudo.com, a live audio and video webcasting website founded in 1993.view all articles from this author