A $20-million fraud lawsuit by the estate of Alexander Calder against his longtime dealer, Klaus G. Perls, has been dismissed by Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich of the New York Supreme Court.
“An incoherent stew of irrelevance and innuendo,” Kornreich characterized the suit in her decision, dated Dec. 23, which concluded that the evidence fails to demonstrate that Perls wrongfully sold Calder works without properly informing the artist or his heirs.
The case included allegations of secret Swiss bank accounts, tens of millions of dollars’ worth of works unaccounted for, and sales of dozens of forgeries. Perls represented Calder from 1954 until the artist’s death, and the complaint accuses him of depriving Calder’s estate of tens of millions of dollars in revenue from works the dealer allegedly secreted away.
Calder died in 1976, Perls in 2008; the lawsuit was filed in 2010. Kornreich said in her decision that in view of the absence of the main players in the case and the passage of time since the actions in question, “Plaintiffs are attempting to litigate issues that necessarily stretch back decades without any personal knowledge or contemporaneous records, where nearly all of the people who had personal knowledge of the facts of the case are dead. Rarely has the court encountered a better justification for the statute of limitations.”
“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, without any consideration of their legal sufficiency,” Kornreich said in the decision.
Steven Wolfe, of Eaton & Van Winkle, the lawyer for the Perls family, said in a statement, “We are gratified by the court’s ruling, which upholds the integrity of Klaus Perls and his family. This baseless and mean-spirited lawsuit caused unnecessary pain and distress and was a sad abuse of the legendary relationship between Alexander Calder and his dear friend, Klaus Perls. The court rightly held that all the executors’ claims were unsupportable in law or fact.”
Neither representatives of the Calder Foundation nor the estate’s lawyers could immediately be reached for comment on Monday.