New York Magazine’s Robert Kolker puts an interesting spin onto the Jasper Johns studio assistant theft case. Detailing how James Meyer sold work from a single drawer he access to among Johns’s finished and unfinished artworks, Kolker adds that a lawyer for a collector who paid $400,000 for an illegally obtained drawing is suing a dealer who acted as an intermediary but not another:
[Frances] Naumann’s next brush with Meyer — the important one — took place in the spring of 2009. Naumann was contacted by a fellow art dealer named Fred Dorfman, asking if he knew of any collectors in the market for a small work by Jasper Johns, a 12-by-14-inch black-and-white drawing on plastic — “a complete and fully finished, beautiful drawing” signed by Johns, Naumann says. Dorfman emailed a photo of the drawing to Naumann, who then sent it to a client of his, a New Jersey–based collector named Frank Kolodny, who fell in love with it. Soon after, Naumann learned that the person selling the drawing was Meyer. On the face of it, he insists, the news that Johns’s longtime studio assistant was unloading one of his boss’s works struck him as only slightly peculiar. Artists like Meyer “always need money at one time or another,” Naumann says.
Dorfman, who orchestrated the deals for Meyer, avoided prosecution. But in May of this year, he was pulled into the case by a civil suit filed by Kolodny, claiming in court papers that Dorfman “conspired with Meyer to perpetrate this elaborate fraud.” The lawsuit argues that Dorfman could not possibly have believed that Johns had generously gifted artwork valued at $6.5 million. In October, Kolodny’s lawyer, Judd Grossman, amended the suit, alleging that Meyer and Dorfman had colluded to steal not 22 but “nearly 50” artworks by Johns — including the work at the top of this story — and that Dorfman had kept them not in his gallery but at home. Dorfman’s lawyer, Adam Mitzner, says that his client would never knowingly sell stolen art and that “James Meyer defrauded many people, including Fred Dorfman.”
Naumann and Kolodny aren’t facing prosecution. The U.S. Attorney apparently considers them to be victims of the swindle, like Johns. And the buyers of Meyer’s 21 other stolen Jasper Johns artworks? “Whether they’re exposed criminally, they’re probably already on the government’s radar,” Grossman says. “We have people come to us all the time saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got this great deal on this work. The work’s got a bit of a sketchy provenance, but it’s worth the investment.’ Which is why I think you don’t see a flood of litigation following this disclosure.”
How an Assistant Stole Jasper Johns’s Work (NYMagazine/Vulture)