A Canadian gallery has brought a federal complaint against a New York art dealer alleging he tried to give works by the American ‘Pop’ artist Jasper Johns official provenances.
The papers described Dorfman as the mastermind of a $6 million scam
The case filed on 11 January in the Southern District New York court, names Fred Dorfman, of Dorfman+ a Chelsea art gallery owner in the lawsuit. It described him as the mastermind of a $6 million scam where he profited from the sales of drawings stolen from the well known artist.
Vancouver’s Equinox Gallery, states that Dorfman represented the artist’s longtime studio assistant, the second rate artist, James Meyer. Papers note that Dorfman never sold any of Meyer artwork, except those that the gallery purchased themselves and colluded with the gallery to sell the stolen works of art by Johns.
While the original case ended with a prison sentence for Mayer, Dorfman was never charged in the fraud. Mayer was also asked to repay $17.4 million in restitution and forfeiture.
Meyer called Dorfman the “architect of the scheme and its primary beneficiary.”
He said, “Dorfman repeatedly asked [him] if he had access to Mr. Johns’ discarded and/or unfinished artworks that were not intended for sale, and put pressure on him to obtain as much of these artworks as he could so they could sell them together.”
Equinox stated that other collectors have gone after it as well. It says Dorfman and his businesses settled with one buyer that brought a civil complaint accusing them of violating federal anti-racketeering law. Equinox says Meyer stole the Johns artwork it bought when he was helping the artist move from his Manhattan apartment on East 63rd Street to his bucolic Sharon, Connecticut, home in 1995 and 1996. When Dorfman agreed to sell these pieces, according to the complaint, he did so “knowing that these pieces were stolen, and in some instances had actually been fished from the trash.”
“To buttress this story, the Dorfman Defendants, among other things, drafted false affidavits for Meyer to sign (to be presented to the buyers, including Plaintiff here) swearing: (i) that the Stolen Works were gifts, (ii) that they were recorded in Johns’s archives, (iii) that they were authentic works, and (iv) that Johns had authorized Meyer to sell them,” the complaint states. “Of course, as the Dorfman Defendants knew at all times, these statements were false.”
Equinox accuses Dorfman of provided photographs showing the stolen drawings listed among other legitimate Johns works in the artist’s studio ledger, and printed counterfeit “Johns” labels to affix to the back of the stolen drawings.
Equinox purchased one of the stolen pieces for $800,000 in January 2008, earning Dorfman $470,000 in commission on the sale, according to the complaint. Equinox notes that the sum “dwarf[ed]” the standard 10 percent to 25 percent commission that galleries earn on such sales.
Equinox Gallery’s lawsuit calls the piece of artwork it bought “virtually worthless and unsaleable where the market does not consider it to be authentic because it will never be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne for Johns’s works.”
A deposition for the case has been set for April 6, 2017.