MANHATTAN (CN) - Jasper Johns' "longtime and trusted studio assistant" stole more than $6.5 million worth of art from the artist and sold it under false pretenses, a collector claims in court.
Frank Kolodny sued Johns' former assistant, James A. Meyer, and Fred Dorfman and Dorfman Projects LLC in Federal Court.
Kolodny claims he paid $400,000 for a stolen artwork. Kolodny sued for himself and as an assignee of the Francis M. Naumann Gallery.
He claims in the lawsuit that Meyer stole "nearly two dozen artworks by Jasper Johns" from the artist's private studio, "and then, together and with the aid and assistance of the Dorfman defendants, sold to unsuspecting buyers, including plaintiff."
Mayer has been criminally indicted for this, Dorfman says in the 36-page lawsuit.
"The Dorfman defendants, driven by the prospect of millions of dollars in commissions, conspired with Meyer to perpetrate this elaborate fraud over the course of more than six years, presenting in each case to prospective buyers the same fabricated story, ostensibly corroborated by the same sworn (mis)statements, resulting in their sale of more than $6.5 million worth of stolen Johns' artwork," the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
It continues: "In each of their twenty-two sales of stolen artwork, defendants falsely represented to potential buyers, including plaintiff, that Meyer had received the artwork as a gift from Johns. To convince buyers of this story, defendants provided buyers, including plaintiff, with an affidavit from Meyer, notarized by Dorfman's wife.
"Each affidavit falsely provided, among other things, that: (1) Meyer received the artwork directly from Jasper Johns; (2) Meyer is the rightful owner of the work and he has the right to sell it; (3) the work is recorded in Jasper Johns' archive; and (4) the work is authentic. ...
"To further their fraudulent scheme, defendants transmitted additional documents that Meyer had fabricated describing the artwork, listing the artist's inventory number purportedly assigned to that work, and stating falsely that the work had been 'gifted to James Meyer.' As alleged in the indictment, Meyer at times placed and photographed these fake pages in the real ledger book at the artist's studio, and the Dorfman defendants then provided the photographs to prospective buyers, including plaintiff. In fact, however, as with many of the Stolen Works, the purported inventory number that defendants provided to plaintiff had already been assigned to a completely different artwork."
Dorfman says that the piece for which he paid $400,000 in now unsaleable.
He wants his money back, and damages for RICO fraud, common-law fraud and breach of warranty.
He is represented by Judd Grossman.