A Prominent Art-Finance Company Says Embattled Dealer Inigo Philbrick Owes It $15 Million for a Loan He Never Paid Back

The five works Philbrick used as collateral are already the subject of numerous claims.

Inigo Philbrick. Photo by Clint Spaulding, ©Patrick McMullan.

A prominent art-lending company has become the latest entity embroiled in the widening scandal surrounding art dealer Inigo Philbrick.

The company, Athena Art Finance, filed a formal request with the New York State Supreme Court on December 10, seeking to reclaim $14.9 million, plus attorneys fees and court costs, from a deal with Philbrick gone awry. Representatives for Athena Art Finance declined to comment.

According to the documents, Athena began doing business with Philbrick and his related companies in January 2017, loaning him $10 million against a number of blue-chip artworks that he is now accused of already having sold to multiple other clients. The original loan was due to be paid in full, plus interest, on March 31, 2020. Then, on May 25, 2018, the two sides reached another agreement whereby the amount of the loan was increased to $13.5 million. It carried the same maturity date of March 2020.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Humidity (1982).

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Humidity (1982). Photo: Phillips de Pury.

Things began to fall apart in October of this year, right around the time the first rumors of Philbrick’s financial troubles started circulating through art-world gossip mills. On October 1, Philbrick’s company “breached its obligations under the loan documents by failing to make an interest payment of $102,590,” which put him in default of the loan, according to Athena’s filing. (The filing is a request for summary judgment, not a formal lawsuit.)

On October 4, even as things were clearly beginning to unravel for Philbrick, he sent an email to Athena CEO Cynthia Sachs to reassure her all was well. “Your interest payment will be with you by Wednesday, sorry for the delay,” he wrote. “In the meantime, I’m doing a deal with a client who knows that I have loans on the large Wool and the Stingel triptych. He was wondering if it is possible to make payment directly to Athena prior to his acquisition so that he knows these are cleared. Can you advise? Many thanks! Inigo.”

Athena later received letters from parties purporting to be the “rightful owners” of the works used as collateral to secure the loan.

Most, if not all, of the artworks at issue appear to be the same ones that are the subject of overlapping legal claims from a number of the dealer’s former associates: Fine Art Partners, a Berlin-based investment firm that had an art-flipping agreement with Philbrick; Satfinance, an investment vehicle run by collector Sasha Pesko; and Guzzini Properties, a firm whose backers were recently revealed as UK tycoons Simon and David Reuben, who have a combined net worth of $12.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Philbrick’s whereabouts are currently unknown and his two former gallery spaces, in Miami and London, have been shuttered. His Miami attorney recently filed a motion to withdraw as counsel, writing that the dealer has “failed to fulfill his obligations.” The UK High Court has granted requests from three separate plaintiffs to freeze Philbrick’s assets.

Image via SCROLL (Supreme Court Records Online)

Image via Supreme Court Records Online.

The works allegedly used for collateral to secure the Athena loan include two by Rudolf Stingel, Untitled (2004) and Untitled (Triptych) (2015); Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Humidity (1982); Donald Judd’s Untitled (1976); and Christopher Wool’s (Untitled) (2010).

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