A new scandal has rocked the art world in the past few weeks: contemporary artists Jasper Johns’s former assistant of 25 years, James Meyer, was recently charged with fraud, after it was discovered he’d been secretly taking works from the artist’s Connecticut studio to an unidentified gallery in New York and selling them for a combined total of $6.5 million, of which Meyer kept half (a paltry sum, given that Johns’s “False Start,” above, sold in 2006 for $80 million). Beginning in 2006 and continuing for six years, Meyer is alleged to have taken 22 pieces in all, some of which were not even completed works, and none of which were authorized by Johns for sale. Meyer even went so far as to create “fake inventory numbers for the stolen pieces and forged pages in a loose-leaf binder that served as a register of all of Johns’ artwork,” providing them to the unknown gallery as proof of authenticity.
Meyer and Johns in his studio
Aiming to keep his perfidy a secret for as long as possible, Meyer negotiated with buyers of the pieces an “agreement that the buyer would not exhibit, loan or re-sell the works for at least eight years,” according to a U.S. Attorney. How that did not raise red flags for the mystery gallery or the buyers is beyond me. That is a ballsy move if there ever was one, and here I was thinking betraying someone you worked for for nearly a quarter of a century was as bad as it got.
Earlier this month, Meyer was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of interstate transportation of stolen property (it should be 22 each, in my lawerly opinion). If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison. Regardless, it’s safe to say he’ll never work in the art world again.