False Flag? Brian Ramnarine's Johns bronze is just one of the works attributed to the artist that has led to court proceedings

Assistant to Jasper Johns charged with theft

The American artist's long-standing assistant has been charged with stealing 22 works, and selling them for $6.5m

Even in terms of contemporary art sales, Jasper Johns's works are pricey. The 83-year-old American pop artist creates only a few works each year, and when pieces come to market, the bids are high. A 1958 Flag painting was sold to hedge-fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen in 2010 for an estimated $110m, making it the most expensive painting ever sold by a living artist.

Small wonder, then, that there have been accusations and even some successful legal actions against those attempting to sell works by or purported to be by the artist over the years. 

Last autumn Brian Ramnarine, a New York foundry owner who had worked for Johns, was charged with selling a fake work cast from one of the artist's moulds. Now, Johns' long-standing assistant James Meyer has been charged with taking 22 unfinished works from the artist's studio, fabricating authentication certificates and selling the pieces via an unwitting New York gallery.


Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze (1960)
Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze (1960)

51-year-old Meyer had been assisting Johns since the mid-1980s, while also pursuing a fine-art career of his own. Yet according to prosecutors, Meyer began to remove works from Johns's Connecticut studio at least as early as 2006, taking pieces from a file drawer he had been tasked with taking care of.

Meyer faked authentication certificates, claiming that Johns had gifted the works to his assistant, before selling them via an unnamed Manhattan gallery for a total of $6.5m. Of this, Meyer himself received $3.4 million. Bloomberg reports that Meyer insisted that each buyer kept the work private for eight years, perhaps in an attempt to cover up his crimes. Clearly, this wasn't precaution enough.

To read more about the case, go here. To learn more about Johns's life and work, do take a look at our pop art books. For an entirely legal close-up examination of the artist's work, do consider The Art Museum, the greatest collection of art ever assembled between two covers.