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French Collector Sues Dealer, Insurance Companies, Alleging Damage to $22.5 M. Brancusi Sculpture

Constantin Brancusi, 'Le Poisson,' ca. 1920–22.

Constantin Brancusi, Le Poisson (The Fish), ca. 1920–22, photographed before it was allegedly damaged.

In a suit filed on Monday in New York Supreme Court, a French collector alleged that two insurance companies, as well as a prominent financier-dealer and his businesses, owe him millions for damage done to a Constantin Brancusi sculpture he owns.

The collector, Marc Baradel, said in his suit that the sculpture, Le Poisson (The Fish, ca. 1920–22), had been appraised at $22.5 million, and that he had insured it as part of a consignment agreement for $5 million. The suit was filed against Asher Edelman and his New York–based art-financing business, Artemus; HUB International, an insurance company headquartered in Chicago; and Lloyd’s of London, a British insurance company that also has an American branch.

According to an appraisal report filed with the suit, the work—which features an ovular marble disk atop a squarish platform—“broke roughly at the center.” Though the sculpture was re-adhered by a specialist, its “value was reduced,” the claim alleges. A report prepared by a consultancy firm says that the object’s value declined by nearly $16.9 million. That document says that the work was damaged in a “fall,” but does not provide specifics.

“Given the amounts of money involved, a jury could find that they were acting in their own interests,” Stephen Weingrad, a New York arts lawyer representing Baradel, told ARTnews of the insurance companies named as defendants. He called the Brancusi sculpture a “major asset” for Baradel.

Reached by ARTnews, Edelman said that he did not cause damage to the work. According to him, Baradel brought the work to the office, and caused the fall himself. “He sets it up on a pedestal—he sets it up, not me—and then we give him the consignment agreement and certificate of insurance,” Edelman said. “That minute, it falls to the ground and breaks.” Edelman called the case “preposterous” and said his lawyer would file a motion for the dismissal of Baradel’s suit.

Representatives for HUB International and Lloyd’s of London did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Baradel’s sculpture is part of one of Brancusi’s most famous series. Similar sculptures from the series reside in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Tate Modern in London, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and have been shown widely. A provenance in the appraisal report says that Baradel acquired the work in 1990, and is now “in the process” of donating a different Brancusi to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The collector is seeking more than $22.5 million in damages from Edelman and his companies, and more than $5 million in damages from HUB and Lloyd’s.

The suit calls the insurance companies’ behavior “gross” and “morally reprehensible,” and alleges that Baradel has not received payment for the damage done to the Brancusi work in his collection. It goes on to say that, because the companies were unwilling to pay fees owed to Baradel, the defendants’ conduct was “of such wanton dishonesty as to imply a criminal indifference to civil obligations.”

The Baradel suit is not the only one involving Edelman that is currently pending. One year ago, Edelman’s company, Artemus, filed suit against New York’s Kasmin gallery, alleging that it had falsified invoices in the sale of a Frank Stella painting to dealer Anatole Shagalov and his business Nature Morte, LLC.

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