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Calder’s heirs lose fraud lawsuit against art dealer

December 26, 2013 - 12:45pm

NEW YORK — Heirs of Alexander Calder, the American modernist who invented the moving sculpture known as the mobile, lost a $20 million fraud lawsuit against the estate of his longtime dealer, Klaus Perls.

Many claims in the case amounted to “an incoherent stew of irrelevance and innuendo,” and the evidence failed to show Perls wrongfully sold Calder works without the heirs’ knowledge, Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich said in a decision made public Tuesday in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan.

“All these allegations are so patently inadequate that the court can only conclude that they were brought solely for the purpose of harassment or embarrassment,” Kornreich said in the ruling, dismissing the case.

In the suit, filed in 2010, Perls and his estate were accused of creating a web of deceit dating back more than three decades, going so far as using a Swiss bank account held under the pseudonym Madam Andre, to stash the proceeds of unauthorized art sales. Calder, whose works are in public and private collections around the world, died in 1976. Perls died in 2008.

“We are definitely appealing — the defendants should not go to bed easily at night,” Aaron Richard Golub, the lawyer for Calder’s heirs, said in a phone interview. “The behavior of the Perlses was so contorted that it’s very hard to describe it in straightforward terms.”

The appeal will be filed within 30 days, he said.

“We are gratified by the court’s ruling, which upholds the integrity of Klaus Perls and his family,” the estate’s lawyer, Steven Wolfe of Eaton &Van Winkle LLP, said in a phone interview. The case “caused undue pain and distress,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed after Perls, his wife, Dolly, and employees of his gallery died, as well as the original executors of the artist’s estate, according to the ruling. The complaint also blamed the estate’s executor, Perls’s daughter Katherine.