Jasper Johns’ former studio assistant of 27 years has been accused of stealing and selling works of art by the artist in a multimillion-dollar theft case. James Meyer, 51 of Salisbury, Connecticut, allegedly took 22 pieces of art in progress from a studio plans chest drawer. He was employed as an assistant at Johns’ Sharon, Connecticut, art studio. He then offered the work for sale to a Manhattan art gallery, according to a news release from the U.S. district attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Meyer also provided a provenance to the gallery stating that the pieces were authentic by providing certificates. Meyer told the gallery that he had been given the works as gifts and claimed ownership. 22 pieces in all were sold by the gallery for a total of $6.5 million. Meyer was paid $3.4 million He is is charged with one count of interstate transportation of stolen property and one count of wire fraud.
“As alleged, James Meyer exploited his position of trust to steal repeatedly from his long-time employer. That his employer is a renowned American artist only made the crime more lucrative” George Venizelos, FBI assistant director-in-charge of the New York field office, stated on Thursday. Interstate transportation of stolen property carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, while wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20. He was arraigned in a Hartford courtroom, Mr. Meyer pleaded not guilty to federal charges, and was released on an unsecured $250,000 bond.
Jasper Johns, 83, is is one of America’s best known artists. He is considered a precursor to the Pop Art movement. His collages and encaustic paintings of the American flag, Numbers and beer cans are iconic.
This is the second case in the last year to surface. Last year Brian Ramnarine, a bronze worker created a wax cast of the mold for Johns’ 1960 Bronze “Flag”. He was charged with using the artist’s original mold to make a copy that he attempted to sell for $11 million.