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Sculptor Calder’s Estate Accuses Late Confidant of Fraud

"Sumac" by Alexander Calder, a mobile work made in 1961. Source: Pace Gallery via Bloomberg.

Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The heirs of American modernist artist Alexander Calder, the inventor of the moving sculpture known as the mobile, have accused his longtime confidant, the art dealer Klaus Perls, of defrauding his estate out of millions of dollars.

The heirs of Calder, who died in 1976, asked to amend a lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court in October 2010 accusing Perls and his estate of fraud and seeking more than $20 million in damages. Perls died in 2008.

Perls and his estate, including the executor, his daughter Katherine, orchestrated a web of deceit dating back more than three decades, even going so far as allegedly using a Swiss bank account hidden under a pseudonym, Madam Andre, to stash the proceeds of unauthorized art sales, according to the heirs.

“It is plain and open that nothing that defendant Katherine Perls and Klaus G. Perls did with respect to the sale of Alexander Calder artworks was honest,” Nehemiah Glanc, an attorney representing Calder’s heirs, said in an affidavit supporting the motion to amend the complaint filed in July.

Calder was a prolific, critically acclaimed artist whose works are represented in numerous public and private collections. The Artnet database of auction sales lists 8,333 results, topped by the $18.6 million paid for the 1945 standing mobile “Lily of Force” at Christie’s International in New York in May 2012.

Steven Wolfe, an attorney with Eaton & Van Winkle LLP in New York representing the Perlses, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending decisions in the case. The Perls heirs have moved to dismiss the complaint, saying the claims are time-barred.

The suit was reported earlier today by the New York Times.

The case is Davidson v. Perls, 651760/2010, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan)

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York State Supreme Court at cdolmetsch@bloomberg.net; Sophia Pearson in federal court in Philadelphia at spearson3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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