The Sale of an Alexander Calder Sculpture Has Sparked a Pair of Competing Lawsuits Between an Art Advisor and a Dealer

An art advisor claims the sculpture was sold against her late mother’s wishes. A dealer says she is stalking him. 

Dealer Edward Tyler Nahem attends a dinner at Bond Street on September 12, 2006 in New York City. Photo: Christian Grattan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

The sale of a multimillion-dollar Alexander Calder sculpture has sparked a pair of competing lawsuits involving an art advisor and dealers in New York and France. 

In January, the adviser, Lea Lee, filed a complaint alleging that a 1950 Calder sculpture was illegally sold from her late mother’s estate in 2017, according to a report from the Daily Beast. Named as defendants in the case are Lee’s two sisters, who helped sell the artwork: the French gallery owner and self-described “art detective” Elisabeth Royer-Grimblat, who bought it from the family, then sold it; and the Manhattan-based dealer Edward Tyler Nahem, who purchased it from Royer-Grimblat. 

In an affidavit, Lee claimed that, before her mother died in December 2017, she expressed a desire for the family to keep her artworks. By that point, though, the Calder sculpture was already in Nahem’s possession. 

Lee said that she didn’t realize the work had been sold until coming across it at the dealer’s Art Basel booth in 2018. Shortly afterward, the advisor learned that her sisters had, in her words, “conspired to sell certain artworks that were part of [her] inheritance” without her knowledge and that Royer-Grimblat had assisted the effort. The three women also “commenced a slander campaign against me, aimed at destroying my professional reputation as an art advisor that seriously and negatively impacted my business both in New York and elsewhere,” Lee claimed. 

Royer-Grimblat denied these allegations in an affidavit submitted to the court. She also shared a receipt showing that she had purchased the artwork from Lee’s mother, Frédérique Nitszchké-Groen, for $2 million in March 2015.

A judge dismissed Lee’s lawsuit in June of this year, citing Royer-Grimblat’s receipt and other pieces of evidence indicating that the Calder was sold while Nitszchké-Groen was alive. Lee has since filed an appeal, maintaining her position that the artwork was stolen.

That campaign has proven to be an issue for Nahem, who filed a complaint of his own last week alleging that Lee’s actions have prevented him from re-selling the Calder. 

In the filing, the dealer claimed that, in recent months, Lee “began to stalk [him] at art fairs and art auctions where he was surrounded by his staff, his spouse, his colleagues and, most damagingly, the Gallery’s clients.” On one such occasion, Nahem said Lee entered his art fair booth and repeatedly yelled that he was a thief until security was called.  

With his lawsuit, Nahem is seeking for a judge to declare the Calder sculpture his and bar Lee from “continuing to act tortiously and outrageously” toward him, per the Daily Beast.

The title and estimated value of the Calder sculpture varies between the two lawsuits. Lee called it Mobile de Bretagne and claimed it to be worth as much as $8 million. Nahem referred to it as La Roche jaune. According to Lee’s lawsuit, he has offered it for $4.5 million.  

 

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