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Christian Rosa in 2013. Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images.
Christian Rosa in 2013. Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images.

Fallen Art Star Charged with Peddling Raymond Pettibon Forgeries

Brazil-born artist Christian Rosa, described just seven years ago in the pages of this publication as “stratospherically successful,” has been charged with wire fraud in relation to the sale of four forgeries attributed to Raymond Pettibon, whom he had in recent years befriended, the New York Times reports. In a federal indictment announced yesterday, Rosa was charged with selling the works, backed by fake certificates of authenticity on which he had forged the noted artist’s signature, to two separate buyers. If convicted, Rosa faces up to twenty years in prison.

Pettibon—who notoriously created the iconic four-bar logo of California punk greats Black Flag, founded by Pettibon’s brother, guitarist Greg Ginn—first earned regard for his album covers for Black Flag and SST labelmates Saccharine Trust, Minutemen, and then up-and-coming indie band Sonic Youth. His prolific creation of unsettling ink-on-paper, comic-style works, typically embodying corrosive, deadpan takes on capitalist American society and culture, over the following decades gained him broader acclaim, culminating in a 2017 retrospective at New York’s New Museum. By that point, Pettibon had begun making his “Wave Series,” paintings in which tremendous ocean swells loomed over tiny barrel-riding surfers, above whose heads floated a few lines of text. It was these works, which began fetching over a million dollars at auction in the early 2010s and whose prices remained steady over the following decade, that drew Rosa’s attention.

Rosa himself had rocketed to fame in the early half of the 2010s, his sparse, Surrealist-influenced canvases earning him stellar reviews and high prices at auction. But those figures fell nearly sevenfold in the span of a single year, between 2014 and 2015. In 2018, Rosa sold two forged “Wave” paintings to a buyer with the help of another person, to whom he gifted a fake “Wave” work in exchange for the person’s assistance. Two years later, that person bought two more forgeries from Rosa, whose main goal, as limned in emails to a friend, had been to sell the works to collectors who would keep them, as he worried their resale on the open market would jeopardize his scheme. “I am not trying to get busted, so that’s why it’s taking longer,” to sell the works, he explained to his friend in an email.

Rosa’s fears were realized sometime last year, when one of the first purchased fakes, which had been privately resold by the original buyer to another collector, was placed with an auction house in New York. As revealed by Artnet News in January 2021, many art-world professionals on seeing the work instantly questioned its authenticity, owing to the use of a yellow-green hue not typically employed by Pettibon, and to the unusual placement of text in the work—against a blue ground at the work’s top, rather than in the clean white barrel of the wave. Speculation abounded that Rosa had taken a half-finished work from the studio of Pettibon, who is reputed to frequently leave works in various states lying around haphazardly, and finished it himself or with the assistance of others.

Within a month of the article’s publication, Rosa had fled the country. He remains at large. “[Rosa] may believe he escaped justice when he fled the country earlier this year,” noted FBI assistant director Michael J. Driscoll in a statement, “but the FBI and our partners have international reach and steadfast determination. We encourage him to turn himself in, because we will eventually find him with that persistent long arm of the law.”

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