Collector Sues After Brancusi Sculpture Breaks in Two

Artemus
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Le Poisson, a sculpture executed by Constantin Brancusi in the 1920s, was damaged and the owner is suing for $22.5 million.

Brancusi's Le Poisson (1920-22, marble) before and after the damage.
Brancusi’s Le Poisson (1920-22, marble) before and after the damage.

Who is at fault when an artwork worth over $20 million is damaged?

That’s exactly the predicament that French art collector Marc Baradel and Asher Edelman, the CEO of art finance firm Artemus, have found themselves in.

Artemus, which was founded by Edelman in 2014, is an art leasing firm that buys artworks from collectors and loans them out to hotels, offices, and private collectors for typically seven years.

Constantin Brancusi, Le Poisson, 1920-22, pre-damage. Image © Screenshot of the Evaluation Report for Mr. Baradel
Constantin Brancusi, Le Poisson, 1920-22, pre-damage. Image © Screenshot of the Evaluation Report for Mr. Baradel

However, on July 3, 2018, Edelman’s worst nightmare occurred. Le Poisson, a Constantin Brancusi sculpture made between 1920-22, fell off its pedestal in the Artemus office and cracked in half. It was valued before the accident at $22.5 million.

The work is comprised of four parts: the black marble fish, a smaller white marble support, a black marble cube and a beige marble base. The work had belonged to Frenchman Marc Baradel since 1990.

Sculpture after the fall, image © Screenshot of the Assessment Report for Mr. Baradel
Sculpture after the fall, image © Screenshot of the Assessment Report for Mr. Baradel

After the unfortunate accident, Baradel had the work restored and then reappraised in May 2019. However, the value had depreciated to $16.8 million due to the damage.

Now, the art collector is taking legal action against Edelman and is claiming $22.5 million in compensation, as stated in a complaint filed in New York in early August. According to Baradel, the work was installed by Asher Edelman in the Artemus office before falling off its pedestal a few moments later and cracking in two. The complaint lodged by the collector states that the company Artemus “violated the consignment contract by not protecting the works of art against any damage when they were responsible for it”.

The marble fish after conservation. Photographs taken by the appraiser at the museum conservation studio, May 23, 2019. © Screenshot of the Assessment Report for Mr. Baradel
The marble fish after conservation. Photographs taken by the appraiser at the museum conservation studio, May 23, 2019. © Screenshot of the Assessment Report for Mr. Baradel

However, Edelman disputes these accusations.

“It’s preposterous,” Edelman told artnet News. “Marc Baradel mounted the Brancusi on a pedestal in my office. He went and sat down on the couch and it immediately fell. By then he had had a certificate of insurance in hand.”

Marc Baradel had insured the work with insurance companies HUB International and Lloyd’s of London for $5 million. He therefore asks the two companies to honor their agreement.

Brancusi in his studio. Image: Centre Pompidou
Brancusi in his studio. Image: Centre Pompidou

Le Poisson is an iconic work of Constantin Brancusi’s. The sculptor was born in Romania in 1876 and moved to Paris in 1903. He escaped the city of Paris during the bombings in 1918 and broke his leg at a friend’s house before healing at the hospital. He started the Fish series not long after which is believed to represent the Christian message of salvation, as well as a nod to his astrological sign, Pisces.

A first version of the work was made of veined marble in 1922, followed by two bronze versions molded in 1924, then three others in 1926. Brancusi also made a much larger marble version in 1930, which is in the collection of MoMA.