To Settle the Macklowe Divorce, a Court Will Ask a Famed Art Dealer to Sell Off Their $700 Million Art Collection—and Everyone Is Watching
The hefty collection may be coming to an auction block near you soon.
There is an old adage in the auction industry that major art sales are driven by the “three D’s”: debt, divorce, and death. But rarely has there been a “D” as big as the acrimonious split of billionaire art-collecting couple Harry and Linda Macklowe.
Their unprecedented divorce, one of the largest in New York history, has dragged on for several years as they battle over assets including pricey real estate in New York and the Hamptons, yachts, and, of course, a stunning art collection estimated to be worth upwards of $700 million.
Now, artnet News has learned that veteran art dealer and former Impressionist and Modern art department head at Christie’s, Michael Findlay, is expected to be appointed as receiver of the collection and will be tasked with overseeing the sale of the massive art trove, according to four sources with knowledge of the arrangement. A court order announcing Findlay’s involvement is due to be made public sometime this week, we understand. Findlay, a director at the prestigious Acquavella Galleries on New York’s Upper East Side, declined to comment.
That the couple even has a receiver in charge of liquidating their art collection is unusual. It was a last resort taken by presiding New York judge Laura Drager after the Macklowes were unable to come to an agreement about how to divide up the collection. Now, Judge Drager has ordered them to sell the art off entirely and, since every step of the tangled case has been so extraordinarily contentious, stipulated that the two sides appoint a mutually agreed-upon “receiver” with expertise in the market to handle the sale.
The divorce between Harry, who made his fortune in real estate, and Linda, his wife of nearly 60 years and a trustee of the Guggenheim Museum, is the stuff of tabloid heaven. The exes made headlines in March when Harry hung two 42-foot-high photographic prints of him and his new wife, Patricia Landeau, on the facade of a building he owns on Park Avenue. (Linda was due to purchase an apartment in that very building before a judge allowed her to exit the deal as part of the divorce.)
Stepping into this fray is Findlay, a seasoned art expert and author of the 2014 book The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty, who is highly respected in the private sale and auction realms alike. His selection came after a protracted back-and-forth battle between the former couple over who would be given the job, according to sources. The Macklowes were originally tasked with submitting the name of an agreed-upon receiver within 45 days of the December 13 ruling last year.
Sources told artnet News the collection is slated for auction (rather than private sale) and expected to go to one of the three biggest houses, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, or Phillips. Next spring is likely the earliest date for a potential auction to give specialists time to catalogue and estimate the value of individual lots.
The collection is already on the radar of the big three houses and the competition to secure the plum consignment will undoubtedly be intense—particularly after a year that has been relatively light on valuable estates to boost the houses’ bottom lines. It might also mark the beginning of a new era: Some experts speculated that now that Sotheby’s is a privately owned company and not beholden to shareholders, it might have more flexibility and spending power when it comes to making an offer. But another source noted that no one wants to be “the first guy to lose money” under the ownership of cost-cutting French-Israeli telecom magnate Patrick Drahi, so early deal-making at Sotheby’s under the new regime has been cautious at best, the source said.
The Macklowe collection, however, is enough to set any auction house’s tongue wagging. Its contents read like a connoisseur’s dream. The 165 works under consideration for sale include an Andy Warhol Marilyn estimated to be worth $50 million (according to valuations released by the court), 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.
Not every work in the collection comes with an agreed-upon value. A list of about 60 works without valuations include blue-chip examples by John Chamberlain, Alberto Giacometti, Robert Gober, Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, Donald Judd, Willem de Kooning, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Mark Rothko, Cy Twombly, and Warhol.
Harry’s attorney, Dan Rottenstreich, declined to comment. Linda’s attorney, John Teitler, did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.
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