According to documents released this morning, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the New York Office of the FBI have charged a former studio assistant to Jasper Johns with the theft of 22 “unauthorized” Johns works. The assistant, 51-year-old James Meyer of Salisbury, Connecticut (pictured above), worked for Johns from 1985 to 2012, and allegedly stole the pieces from a file he was responsible for keeping of artworks specifically prohibited by the artist from being sold. The works grossed $6.5 million when Meyer unloaded them through an unnamed Manhattan gallery from September 2006 to February 2012, netting him $3.4 million. Neither the indictment nor the press release name the gallery involved, presumably because they are not suspected of any wrongdoing — the accused provided sworn statements of authenticity and a host of other falsified supporting documents.
The seven-page indictment unsealed this morning details how, as an insider at the Johns studio in Sharon, Connecticut, Meyer was able to provide persuasive documentation certifying the legitimacy and provenance of the works to both the gallery and prospective buyers. Although Jasper Johns had never intended for the works to leave his studio, Meyer sold the works under the pretext of them having been gifted to him by the artist, and to complete this fiction he allegedly “blatantly misrepresented to the Gallery Owner, and others, that certain of the Unauthorized Works would be included in an upcoming catalogue raisonné … ”
James Meyer is also himself an artist, and is represented by the Fifth Avenue gallery Gering López. The gallery declined to comment when reached by phone this morning. According to Meyer’s LinkedIn page, he is also the CEO of International Encaustic Artists (IEA), “the oldest and largest professional membership organization for encaustic art.” That organization presented a lifetime achievement award to Jasper Johns in 2012. He is also a board member of Artgarage. Calls made to the studio line listed on his website went straight to voicemail.
It appears that the fraudulent documents were compelling enough that the US Attorney is not pursuing charges against the gallery nor seeking the forfeiture of the $3.1 million of proceeds they are assumed to have realized from the sale of the works in question. In addition to seeking the forfeiture of his proceeds from the sales, the state is charging Meyer with one count of interstate transportation of stolen property and one count of wire fraud. The former carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, the latter a maximum sentence of 20 years.