Famous artists and thievery go together like paint on a canvas. The latest crime drama to hit the art world took place on Wednesday when a lawsuit was a dropped on one of the art world's most connected attorneys, Ralph E. Lerner, who has in the past represented prestigious galleries like the Gagosian and high-powered art collectors.
The accusations: charging and hiding unauthorized fees to the Cy Twombly Foundation, where he serves secretary and a director of the board. The New York Times reports:
Regarding unauthorized charges, the new papers say that Mr. Lerner “even charged legal fees for merely attending board meetings as a director,” adding that “no other board member received (or was entitled to receive) compensation (much less at the significant rate of $950 an hour) for attending board meetings or reviewing and editing the board meeting minutes.”
Twombly was an artist credited with breathing new life into abstract art in the 1950s and 1960s. His stuff was whimsical: his paintings resembled graffiti and his sculptures, which he worked on in the 70s until his passing in 2011, remind one of fairytales and mythology. His best friends were artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.
Speaking of which...Rauschenberg's foundation, like Twombly's, has been riddled with squabbling court battles too. And Johns's estate is dealing with a thievery accusation as well. In August, Johns's assistant was accused of stealing over 20 pieces of Johns's work and selling them to a New York gallery. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time:
[51-year-old James] Meyer, an artist himself, had worked as Mr. Johns's studio assistant since 1985. According to the indictment, one of his responsibilities was maintaining a file drawer containing pieces of Mr. Johns's unfinished artwork.
From at least September 2006 through February 2012, it is alleged Mr. Meyers removed at least 22 art pieces from Mr. Johns's studio in Sharon, Conn., and brought them to an art gallery in Manhattan, which is not named in the indictment.
Meyer's court date capped off a summer of art thievery which included a forger selling 63 fake paintings to galleries and making tons of money, Romanian art thieves possibly burning masterpieces from the likes of Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet, and a handyman accused of stealing originals from Picasso's stepdaughter.
"Lerner has been hiding these bills for a year, and now we know why," the lawyer for Nicola Del Roscio and Julie Sylvester, the president and vice president of Twombly's foundation told The Times. Considering history and how seemingly easy it is to make money away from dead artists, we do too.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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