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Court Fight Over a $1 Million Calder Piece

MANHATTAN (CN) - Alexander Calder's estate blocked the sale of a $1 million sculpture by falsely claiming that his "Eight Black Leaves" mobile is just a fragment of a larger work, a Swiss art dealer claims in Federal Court.

Calder sold the sculpture to Gerald Cramer in 1948 as a "fully integrated work" and Cramer displayed it in his gallery in Geneva, according to the 40-page lawsuit, which contains another 136 pages of exhibits.

Cramer's son, plaintiff Patrick Cramer, "a prominent art dealer in his own right," claims he contacted Christie's in April 2012 to sell Eight Black Leaves. He estimates it's worth $1.2 million.

He claims he sought issuance of an inventory number by the Calder Foundation, which recognized the authenticity of the piece but said it was part of a larger piece of work and not deserving of an inventory number.

Cramer disputes that.

"In the more than 60 years since Gerald Cramer's purchase of 'Eight Black Leaves,' nobody has ever claimed or suggested that 'Eight Black Leaves' was a fragment of a larger work," he says in the lawsuit.

"This unsupported assertion was only made after the foundation learned that the estate of Gerald Cramer sought to obtain an inventory number in order to sell the work. ...

"Without an inventory number, 'Eight Black Leaves' is not marketable and a work produced by Calder cannot be catalogued or made available to the public for art education and research in accordance with the charitable and educational purpose of the foundation."

Cramer claims the Calder Foundation, which owns more than 22,000 of the artist's works worth hundreds of millions of dollars, "has compromised its scholarly integrity by falsely labeling 'Eight Black Leaves' as a fragment."

The complaint continues: "This wrongful act is part of a larger pattern in which the Foundation has controlled the market for Calder works through arbitrary determinations of authenticity. The Foundation's authenticity decisions are fueled by the Foundation's conflict of interest - and its self-interest - as both the arbiter of authenticity and the owner of numerous Calder works worth millions of dollars."

Calder's work is "thriving" 35 years after the artist's death, Cramer says. In 2012, his mobile, "Lilly of Force," sold at auction for $18.5 million.

The Calder Foundation was once responsible for "cataloguing all the works produced by the artist Alexander Calder and making his works available for public inspection in order to facilitate art education and research," according to the complaint.

But, Cramer says, the foundation no longer formally authenticates Calder works and has abandoned its compilation of the Calder catalogue raisonne "in order to insulate itself from accountability for its authentication decisions, which are often arbitrary and self-interested."

Cramer asks the court to order the foundation to give him an inventory number for the work.

He says the piece is worth at least $1.2 million, and seeks $3.6 million for treble damages.

He is represented by Michael Lacher with Eaton & Van Winkle LLP.

Named as defendants are The Calder Foundation and executors of the artist's estate. Christie's auction house is not a party to the complaint.

Calder (1898-1976) is best known for turning the mobile into a recognized art form.

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