“Calder’s Heirs Accuse Trusted Dealer of Fraud”

It’s one of those family lawsuit stories: muddled by time passed, angry heirs, a lot of money, Swiss bank accounts, and startling accusations.

It’s about the famous, late (as of 1976) artist Alexander Calder, or, rather, about his work. The New York Times article by Patricia Cohen begins:

The bond between dealer and artist can be a kind of love affair, with its attendant passions and confidences, interests and intrigues.

Such was the case with the sculptor Alexander Calder and Klaus G. Perls, who represented him from 1954 until Calder’s death in 1976. The two frequently dined and traveled together, and visited each other’s families. When Calder came to Manhattan, he often stayed at Perls’s Madison Avenue townhouse.

“He trusted him completely,” said Calder’s grandson Alexander S. C. Rower, who added that he himself considered Perls and his wife, Amelia, “a dear aunt and uncle.”

But now that bond has dissolved into a bitter dispute between the families of the two men.

In a recently amended complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court, the Calder estate says the Perlses surreptitiously held on to hundreds of Calder’s works and swindled the artist’s estate out of tens of millions of dollars. Perhaps most surprising, it says that Perls, a dealer with a sterling reputation who campaigned to rid his industry of forgeries, sold dozens of fake Calders. The suit depicts Perls as a tax cheat who stashed millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account, a secret his daughter said she maintained by paying off a former gallery employee with $5 million. She added that Calder had his own hidden Swiss account.

I like Calder’s stuff. Who wouldn’t? It’s very likeable. I don’t remember a time I ever loved it, though. But I must say the sculpture pictured in the Times article — which Calder’s heirs are calling a fake — is loveable, at least to me. So if no one wants it…

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