The New York Times continues its prominent coverage of the art market’s failings today with another A1 story about fakes and fraud. Instead of China, we get a look at the inner workings of Alexander Calder’s dealer Klaus Perls. That’s because Calder’s estate is suing the Perls estate for concealing its ownership of 679 works and also selling fake works. It is a story the art world has been following since Josh Baer first broke it in his newsletter this August.
In the process, both artist and dealer are revealed to have had a distaste for paying taxes. Though the Perls estate exonerated itself with the US government and the Calder estate says it has no knowledge of the artist’s supposed Swiss bank accounts.
Here’s the New York Times’s excellent Patricia Cohen on the case which involves Sandy Rower, Calder’s grandson, accusing Katherine Perls, the executor of Calder’s dealer’s estate:
In 2010, a Canadian gallery contacted the Calder Foundation, of which Mr. Rower is chairman, about a $1.5 million wooden mobile titled “Standing Constellation.” It had been purchased from the Perls Foundation, a trust set up after the Perls Gallery closed in 1997.
Mr. Rower said he was puzzled because “Standing Constellation” had not been listed on an inventory of holdings provided by the Perls Gallery after Calder’s death, nor had the Calder estate received any payment from its sale. […] “Standing Constellation” was only one of nearly 700 Calder bronze sculptures, jewelry and other works worth well in excess of $20 million that had been in the Perlses’ hands and are unaccounted for, court papers say.
Eventually, the story goes on to say, the inquiry into the origin of the work revealed a Swiss bank account that Klaus Perls used to conduct business and keep money out of reach from the IRS:
Ms. Perls added that Calder, too, kept a Swiss bank account, to which Perls regularly transferred the artist’s profits. In court papers, Mr. Wolfe, the Perls lawyer, said, “Alexander Calder and Klaus Perls were kindred spirits in that they both had an aversion to paying taxes.”
Mr. Rower said that he has found no record of such an account and that the estate has never received any assets from it.
Ms. Perls, in a deposition, dismissed the assertion that her family had hidden anything from Calder or his estate. While the original ledgers are missing, she said a copy shows that, in 1970, Calder gave “Standing Constellation” to her mother as a gift. […] Mr. Rower said the disturbing discoveries continued. In a deposition, Mr. Mayhew said that the Perls Gallery had sold approximately 30 fake Calders. Mr. Rower said that he is not sure whether such sales were intentional but that he knows the gallery had to settle some claims related to the sale of counterfeits in the 1980s. […] But the number of these sales astounded him. By going through the foundation’s records and analyzing photographs of supposed Calder works, some of which were linked to known forgers, he said he has determined that the gallery handled at least 61 counterfeits.
Ms. Perls said in a deposition that she is convinced that her father never knowingly sold any fakes.
Calder’s Heirs Accused Trusted Dealer of Fraud (New York Times)