Judge Orders Collectors Harry and Linda Macklowe to Sell Their $700 Million Art Trove and Split the Proceeds

The couple has amassed a collection of some of the biggest names in modern and contemporary art.

Harry Macklowe and Linda Macklowe. Photo Patrick McMullan/A. Scott.
Harry Macklowe and Linda Macklowe. Photo Patrick McMullan/A. Scott.

It reads like a blue-chip collector’s dream checklist: a $50 million Andy Warhol Marilyn, nine works by Picasso, a Jackson Pollock worth up to $35 million, roughly a dozen works by Jeff Koons—including a $10 million bronze sculpture Vest with Aqualung—and a $12 million Brice Marden.

These are just some of the 165 artworks that New York judge Laura Drager has ordered billionaire real estate developer Harry Macklowe and his wife Linda to divvy up and sell as their 59-year marriage comes to a bitter end. Drager’s decision closes a chapter in one of the most lengthy and contentious divorces in recent history.

It also provides the first detailed picture of the couple’s art holdings—which insiders have been extremely curious about in the year since a judge initially determined that they would be required split their assets as part of their divorce.

 

A Star-Studded Collection

In a 2017 New York Times profile, the paper called Harry “the real estate titan with a career as mercurial as it is long.” He and Linda married in 1959 when he was 20 and she was 21. The court papers note that neither had “significant assets” when they tied the knot. Harry, who had not graduated from college, worked for Parents Magazine selling advertisements, while Linda worked as a receptionist for a publishing company.

“The parties collected art almost from the beginning of their marriage,” Drager wrote in her decision. “They now possess an internationally renowned collection of modern and contemporary art. Although the collection is held in [Linda’s] name through a limited liability corporation, the art is marital property.”

By about 1963, Harry had made his first real estate investment by converting a loft on East 28th Street into an office building with a group of investors. Linda, who was always passionate about art, began to bring Harry to galleries and together they developed close relationships with dealers and artists.

The Macklowes’ divorce standoff extended not only to questions of ownership rights—for the art as well as real estate and other assets—but also to questions about the value of individual artworks, because those figures will determine the tax consequences for both members of the couple.

Harry asserted that the court should determine the fair market value of each piece of art, while Linda advocated for “marketable cash value”—a lower amount that would deduct expenses such as shipping, insurance, and commissions from the fair market price. (Both sides seem to agree, however, that the most valuable work in the collection is Andy Warhol’s Nine Marilyns, with a valuation of $50 million.)

 

Battle Over Values

Harry and Linda both hired their own qualified experts to evaluate the works, often resulting in appraisals that were millions, and sometimes tens of millions, of dollars apart. The differing conclusions illustrate the fact that appraisal is as much an art as a science.

The couple purchased Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture Le Nez, of which there are only five examples in existence, in 1992. Linda’s appraiser—Christopher Gaillard of the firm Gurr Johns—valued the work by comparing it to two versions of a different sculpture by Giacometti sold in 2010 and 1990, as well as the sale of another version of Le Nez from 1992, with prices ranging from $25 million to less than $1 million. As a result, he determined the market value of the work would be $35 million.

Meanwhile, Harry’s expert, Elizabeth von Habsburg of Winston Fine Art, used two different auction sales of Giacometti sculptures that sold in the $50 million range in 2010 and 2013. She also referenced more recent Giacometti sculptures sold privately for between $50 million and $100 million, and the recent surge of interest in his work. She concluded the market value of the work would be, conservatively, $65 million.

Further complicating matters, although Harry’s expert “ascribed a higher value to more of the art” than Linda’s expert, “that was not always the case,” according to the ruling. For example, Gaillard estimated the value of  Pollock’s Number 17 at $35 million, while Von Habsburg calculated $15 million. Once again, the difference was driven by their reliance on different combinations of comparable auction and private sales and prices for other works from the same series.

As a result of the disparity in valuations, Drager divided the works into different groupings, or “schedules,” in her decision. The art in the first and second grouping has been assigned specific values on which both sides could agree. The third grouping has not.

The list of about 60 works on the so-called “Schedule III” include blue-chip works by artists including John Chamberlain, Giacometti, Robert Gober, Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, Donald Judd, Willem de Kooning, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Mark Rothko, Cy Twombly, and Warhol.

Harry’s attorneys, Peter E. Bronstein and Dan Rottenstreich, declined to comment. Linda’s attorney, John Teitler, did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

 

What’s Next

Having determined that the art is the Macklowes’ “most valuable marital property” and in giving each party half of the overall assets, the judge said “it is impossible to distribute the art entirely to one party.”

Instead, the judge’s order provides for Linda to receive all the art included under “Schedule I,” which has been valued at just under $40 million ($39.9 million), but she must pay Harry a $20 million credit. Meanwhile, the art listed in Schedules II and III, which includes the some of most valuable pieces, “will be sold and the net proceeds distributed 50 percent to each party.”

Neither Christie’s nor Sotheby’s responded to requests for comment about handling the potential sales. However, the decision notes that Christie’s provided an earlier insurance appraisal of the entire collection in 2015, the year before the Macklowes commenced their divorce proceeding, of $937 million.

According to the Macklowes’ current separate valuations, the fair market value of the collection ranges anywhere from $625.6 million to $788.7 million. Within 45 days, the Macklowes must select “a receiver” to sell the art—a lawyer or former judge who will be tasked with securing the best deal for the couple. If they cannot agree on the same receiver, they will submit a list of names and the court will decide.

In her decision, Drager writes that the sale of the art “will provide each party with needed cash to enable them each to enjoy their lifestyles.”


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