Art Heist


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.

19 thoughts on “Art Heist

  1. I generally really enjoy your art heist stories, and don’t get me wrong this wasn’t enjoyable exactly. It just made me so sad. They worked together (and it had to have been so closely too) for so long. What a betrayal. Violet wants to bit the bad man.

    1. I know, right? It’s pretty depressing! I liked the old days of my art heists posts, where idiots took things off walls in broad daylight. That was enough of a betrayal. This just seems like the ultimate kick in the guts. xo

  2. He would have been doing a public service if he just hid them from the world………—One Woman’s Opinion.

      1. You come by it naturally on both sides. At least I didn’t yell out, “Don’t they have trash removal,” like your father did at an outdoor art exhibit in RIttenhouse Square.

        1. Hahah, that’s totally a Daddy thing to do. I did exclaim that the Picasso exhibit in DC was “dreck” at age 3, though. xo

  3. Okay yeah that one is REALLY ballsy. I wonder if he had high anxiety just waiting to be found out, especially for those unfinished pieces.

    1. He must have to have put so many restrictions on the pieces he sold, he knew he was covering his tracks. I just can’t believe he would do it! Once, I could understand, but for six years?? xo

  4. i am just stuck on the fact that that painting sold for 80 million dollars. crazy.

    but, yes, so sad. i wonder if there is a story behind the story. i am sure there is, there always is. but what it is? did he do work on the paintings he stole? was he a scorned lover? was he promised something that never came to fruition? or was he really just a terrible backstabbing villain filled with jealousy and envy?

    1. Right? Isn’t that insane? When I read “Seven Days in the Art World” earlier this year, there was a footnote about the highest prices paid for the work of a living artist, and it just kept getting beat every year at the major gallery sales. It’s insane.

      There’s a lot of speculation amongst people that knew both of them that he was jealous, but a lot of people are just really shocked. This article from the Times goes more into that. Crazy stuff. xo

    1. I bet that’s what is getting Johns the most in the entire thing. Not the art. The betrayal from someone he knew and trusted so well. xo

    1. The motivation has to be money, you’d think. $3 million over 6 years isn’t a bad sum to rake in, but I’d be so guilty about spending it if it were me. I’m clearly not cut out to be an art thief. xo

    1. That’s what’s breaking my heart! The art is retrievable, it can be taken back from the people that bought it if it comes down it, but his relationship with his assistant is totally finished. Such a shame. xo

  5. Note to self, if I should ever become a famous painter or inherit famous paintings do NOT keep them in a filing cabin and have a well thought out cataloging system that I will check daily. I cannot believe that someone this close to a painter could act this way. My moral compass doesn’t even let me touch the paintings in the museum, even though I am tempted to all the time…

  6. Oh wow this is sort of crazy I am reading a book called long gone and it is about murder and mystery in the art world. Cool blog following via Bloglovin

    Ali of

    Dressing Ken

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