Battle

Inside the Epic Auction-House Battle to Win Divorcing Couple Harry and Linda Macklowe’s Peerless $700 Million Art Collection


It feels like déjà vu. The art world’s most closely watched collection of postwar treasures, amassed over decades by Linda and Harry Macklowe, is inching toward the auction block. Again.

The couple’s acrimonious split has fueled gossip columns and tantalized art sellers ever since Linda Macklowe filed for divorce from her billionaire real-estate developer husband five years ago. At stake is their trove of prized Picassos, Warhols, and Twomblys, which has been estimated to be worth more than $700 million. A court ordered dozens of works to be sold at auction after the warring spouses were unable to agree on valuations for their priciest pieces. A judge brought in an outside expert to oversee the dispersal on a three-year deadline. 

Following many months of anticipation, top works from the collection are now expected to hit the auction block in November, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the court hadn’t given its rubber stamp yet. (Sources also cautioned that further legal or public health challenges could push that date back further.) Of the 165 works in the couple’s holdings, 64 will be sold, with an estimated value of $625.6 million to $788.7 million. 

The sale will be the biggest test of the 20th century masterpiece market since the pandemic struck. Supply has been scarce in this top tier, with sellers reluctant to consign major works to auction in a moment of global uncertainty. Billionaire Ron Perelman sold much of his prized art privately last year, generating about $500 million. 

Brice Marden, Red Rocks (5) (2000–02). Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.

Brice Marden, Red Rocks (5) (2000–2). Brice Marden, Red Rocks (5) (2000–2). Assessed at $12 million, it’s the most valuable painting that may remain in Linda Macklowe’s possession, according to court papers. Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.

The process to sell the Macklowe collection was well underway early last year, with Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips all clamoring for the prize. But then the pandemic hit and the collection’s court-appointed receiver Michael Findlay put the plans on ice

Earlier this summer, as the art market rebounded and the vaccination rate accelerated, Sotheby’s and Christie’s were asked to submit their proposals again, according to people familiar with the process. The market has been abuzz ever since. Did Christie’s get it? Did Sotheby’s?

There has been no official word yet—but the expectation among people familiar with the matter is that the collection will go to Sotheby’s. (Representatives for Sotheby’s and Christie’s had no comment. Findlay didn’t respond to requests to comment.) “I can’t wait to scream that from the rooftops,” one Sotheby’s staff member said. 

Any screaming will have to wait, however, until the legal decision is made by the court—or, as one dealer put it, “until this deal is signed in concrete.”  

Michael Findlay. Photo: Victoria Findlay Wolfe.

The court is likely to make its determination of how to proceed based on the recommendation of the receiver, according to Thomas Danziger, an attorney who is not involved in the case but has represented divorcing spouses with valuable art collections.

The receiver’s presentation to the court is expected to be followed by a hearing, during which both parties will have a chance to voice their questions and concerns, opposition and support. After that, the court will make a decision about the sales strategy, Danziger said. 

There may be delays. Linda Macklowe filed several appeals since the court’s initial order to sell the art in 2018, objecting to the sale itself and the appointment of the receiver, according to court documents. So far, those motions have been denied.

Attorneys for Linda Macklowe didn’t respond to requests to comment. Harry Macklowe’s attorney Josh Schiller, a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner, declined to comment.

Time is of essence for many reasons. Both Harry and Linda Macklowe are in their 80s. The court’s three-year deadline to sell off the collection is due to expire next year. And if the sales are indeed to start in November, the winning auction house would need to get a jump on its marketing campaign and start lining up financial backers to reduce its risk. (The three-year deadline may be extended if the receiver asks for more time, which he may, since a collection of this size and value is likely to be offered over multiple seasons.)

The winning bid is expected to come down to financials such as the guarantee offered by the auction houses and the split of the upside granted to the sellers.   

“The question becomes if the auction house is giving all the money to the consignor or makes a return,” Danziger said, speaking broadly about top-end deals. “At the most aggressive levels, the consignor is effectively renting the hall from the auction house and is taking all the revenue.”

At the peak of the auction wars in the mid-2010s, the houses would often forgo profit for the privilege of selling a masterpiece. There may be more emphasis on dollars and cents during the pandemic, as Christie’s and Sotheby’s had to cut staff and adjust to reduced revenues. 

Patrick Drahi, Sotheby's new owner, in 2016. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)

Patrick Drahi, Sotheby’s new owner, in 2016. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)

Sotheby’s—and its new billionaire owner Patrick Drahi—has more to prove. The company had been trailing Christie’s for more than a decade until last year. It has also recently seen an exodus of key executives in postwar and contemporary art, including the head of its global art Amy Cappellazzo.

The market’s response to the collection—which includes such treasures as Andy Warhol’s Marilyn (9 Times) [Nine Marilyns] (1962), estimated to be worth around $50 million—is another unknown. Taste has begun to change as new buyers pour into the market. In May, the postwar collection of Texas philanthropist Anne Marion didn’t spark major fireworks, while paintings by artists of color including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Colescott, and Matthew Wong ignited heated bidding wars.  

Andy Warhol, <i>Marilyn (9 Times) [Nine Marilyns<i> (1962). Photo: Richard Gray Gallery.

Andy Warhol, Marilyn (9 Times) [Nine Marilyns] (1962) from the Macklowe Collection. Photo: Richard Gray Gallery.

“The gap between the prices of blue-chip (largely white, largely male) artists and hot newcomers has definitely narrowed since the onset of the pandemic,” said Natasha Degen, chair of art market studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “This apparent shift in taste seems connected to the broader zeitgeist—a questioning of the canon and a desire to promote fresh voices representing a more diverse art world.”

Nevertheless, experts note, there remains a strong appetite for the very best postwar treasures. “Even with the post-COVID universe of NFTs and super-contemporary, there’s still vital global interest in masterpieces of 20th century art,” said Andrew Terner, a New York private art dealer.

Will the Macklowe works fit the bill? While the quality is stellar and most have spent decades off the market, the collection is also a known entity because of the legal drama and the trail of public documents outlining the works and their valuations.

“The question is whether it’s perceived as fresh or not,” said one auction executive. “It hasn’t been available and yet everyone knows what it is.”

Take a closer look at some of the collection’s highlights below.

Magnifying Glass

Alberto Giacometti, Le Nez (1949)

The bronze sculpture ‘Le nez’ by Alberto Giacometti throwing a shadow at Schirn art hall in Frankfurt/Main, Germany. (Photo by Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

This sculpture drew the most divergent estimates from Harry and Linda Macklowe’s experts, with one valuing it at $35 million and another at $65 million, according to court papers. This piece depicts a head suspended inside a hollow rectangular cage. Its outrageously long nose extends beyond the confines of the prison-like structure. The Guggenheim Museum published the image of the work on the cover of its Giacometti exhibition catalogue in 2018.

 

Mark Rothko, No. 7 (1951)

The eight-foot-tall canvas features three horizontal bands of pink, yellow, and orange. Prices for the Abstract Expressionist peaked in 2012, when his painting from the collection of David Pincus fetched $86.9 million. In recent years, more somber works came to market and have been met with muted interest. In May, a blue Rothko sold for $38 million at Christie’s, falling short of the $39.9 million it fetched in 2014 when it was sold as part of Bunny Mellon’s estate at Sotheby’s. 

 

Jeff Koons, Vest With Aqualung (1985)

Jeff Koons, Aqualung (1985). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Jeff Koons, Aqualung (1985). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

One of 12 works by Koons in the couple’s collection, this bronze had been estimated at $10 million by Harry’s art expert and $11 million by Linda’s. Although Koons’s stainless steel bunny sold for $91 million in 2019, making him the most expensive living artist at auction, his market has cooled off substantially since then. At a recent Phillips sale, a sculpture from his “Gazing Ball” series estimated at $400,000 to $600,000 was offered without a reserve, which means it could hypothetically have sold for as little as $1 (it went on to fetch $1 million). The Macklowe collection also includes a “Gazing Ball” work, estimated at $1.8 million

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Ex-Sotheby’s Rainmakers Battle It Out With New Firms, Tastemaking Gallery Cuts a Chunk of Its Roster, & More Juicy Art-World Gossip


Every week, Midnight Publishing Group News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops reported and written by Nate Freeman. If you have a tip, email Nate at [email protected]

 

WAR OF THE FORMER BID KINGS

In 2016, Sotheby’s rolled the dice and spent $50 million—plus $35 million in performance-contingent bonuses—to acquire Art Agency, Partners, a boutique advisory firm. Initially, the move was a bit baffling considering the amount of money involved, but it soon became clear why the deal got done: Sotheby’s needed to have on its team the trio of founders, Amy Cappellazzo, Allan Schwartzman, and Adam Chinn.

In the years since, Sotheby’s went private and all three have bolted from the world-conquering auction house. Now, they’re planning to set out on their own—with upstart enterprises that are due to go head to head.

Almost immediately after joining Sotheby’s, the three started making serious cash for their corporate overlords. Cappellazzo, once the leading rainmaker at archrival Christie’s, was back to her swashbuckling ways, swooping in to secure prize consignments through sheer brute force and egging on billionaires to bid that extra million on the phone.

Schwartzman was the more cerebral of the three and centered his attention on waxing philosophical on the much-heralded In Other Words podcast and newsletter while advising deep-pocketed clients like Howard Rachofsky, Penny Pritzker, Nicolas Berggruen, and—just the tiniest bit controversially—the Saudi royal family. (He’s on the advisory board of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for Al Ula.)

Howard Rachofsky’s house in Dallas. Photo courtesy Rachofsky House.

The biggest surprise was Chinn. For a guy with a background as a lawyer and investment banker, his role at an art advisory firm was less obvious, and his role at an auction house, downright head-scratching. But he quickly became a fixture on the phone bank, barking into the receiver, goading on the ultra-rich to nab that pricey Picasso.

After a stint advising for the notorious Mugrabi family—the clan with hundreds of war halls and the balls to disrupt global markets through speculative buying—Chinn started an online auction business called LiveArt, and the buzziest takeaway is that it’s an online platform where both buyer and seller are completely anonymous to one another and can quickly transact without the messiness of personality getting in the way. What’s more, Chinn is only charging a 10 percent commission, with the hope that clients would come to him rather than his former employer, another gallery, or advisory firm.

A view outside Sotheby's in New York City. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images.

A view outside Sotheby’s in New York City. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images.

(Chinn also threw a splashy dinner Tuesday night at Bar Primi on the Bowery—also known as the place you begrudgingly head to when Gemma is full—with a slightly thirsty Paperless Post that included the entire bill of fare for the evening. Ricotta crostini with truffle honey, anyone?)

Competing for oxygen in the art-market atmosphere is Schwartzman and Associates, the still under-the-radar operation that hopes to become the go-to shop for the world’s most tasteful billionaires and their museums. Although he’s yet to launch publicly, Schwartzman has already built a crackerjack team of art-market sharpshooters including many former Art Agency Partners colleagues. There are also a few ringers mixed in, including Simon Preston, the onetime Lower East Side gallery owner who had a short stay at Pace before getting axed in a round of layoffs. Rounding out the team are vets from LVMH, Sotheby’s, and David Zwirner

As for Cappellazzo, sources say she’s planning her own deeply ambitious shop, a firm suited to a post-COVID world where good material is hard to come by but demand—and the capital to fuel it—is endless. After wrapping up her time at Sotheby’s in the next few weeks, she’s going to take the summer off and launch in mid-fall. 

Cappellazzo and Schwartzman declined to comment; Chinn did not respond to an email. 

GALLERY ROSTER PURGE 

David Nolan’s uptown space. Phoo courtesy David Nolan.

Word came down last week in hushed whispers: a large chunk of the roster of David Nolan Gallery had been taken off the site seemingly overnight. The timing was odd: Since moving from the northern part of West Chelsea a few years back to a stately townhouse on the Upper East Side, David Nolan, who has maintained a gallery presence in New York for decades, seems to be absolutely thriving. The show up right now—a survey of artists nurtured and championed by the great dealer Klaus Kertess—has been a real hit, drawing even the most staunch of downtown kids up to the nabe that Nolan now calls home.

Installation view of 13 Artists: A Tribute to Klaus Kertess’ Bykert Gallery 1966-75. Phoo courtesy David Nolan Gallery.

But one thing is clear: a number of longtime Nolan artists who were listed on the roster earlier this year are no longer there. According to a cached screengrab of the official list from March of this year—thanks again, Wayback Machine—the following artists were all on the roster at the time: Alice Maher, Ray Yoshida, Gavin Turk, Alexander RossSteve DiBenedetto, and Serban Savu. Now, they are all off (or have been demoted from “represented” to simply having “works available”), leaving the roster at 16 artists including Barry Le Va, who died earlier this year. 

What happened? Wet Paint reached out to them all; many did not respond. One of those who was reached said they hadn’t worked with the gallery in years, indicating the purge could have been a matter of summer housekeeping rather than a coordinated mutiny or a brutal culling. Nolan didn’t respond to a request for comment.

 

WET PAINT SCRIBE OUT

The Wet Paint hat at Lucien. Photo courtesy Nate Freeman.

One more bit of breaking news: After nearly 80 columns chock full of scandal and gossip, your faithful Wet Paint scribe will be leaving Midnight Publishing Group at the end of the month to become an art columnist and staff writer at Vanity Fair

Which means: Midnight Publishing Group needs a new gossipmonger to take over this illustrious column! Do you think it could be you? If so, see the full job posting here and submit an application. 

And, since you are wondering, yes, I will figure out what to do about all those hats. Stay tuned for an update in the next column, which will resume after a July 4th break.

POP QUIZ

In honor of the Cady Noland show at Galerie Buchholz, last week’s clue was her great work Oozewald, shown from behind. It was bought by Mitchell and Emily Rales for their private museum, Glenstone. Only three winners this time: Brussels-based curator Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte; Cyprien David, exhibition coordinator at Gagosian Geneva;  and Dan Desmond, executive director of the Blue Rider Group at Morgan Stanley.  

Here is this week’s clue. Name the artist and the owner!

Send guesses to [email protected] 

WE HEAR…

… Will Ferrell and his wife, Viveca Paulin-Ferrell, have loaned a handsome Huguette Caland to the Drawing Center‘s current show … Pace is letting Michael Xufu Huang, the founder of Beijing‘s X Museum, curate a show at its space in Palo Alto …  Charles Ray will be showing a new self-portrait at Glenstone, to be unveiled this December … Gagosian is doing Felix, the Los Angeles fair held at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, for the first time, and the booth features works by Duane Hanson, Ed Ruscha, and Taryn Simon that “provide an illuminating contrast between real life and Los Angeles’s more elusive fantasies of glamour and fame” … Speaking of Felix, the art-world podcast Nota Bene will be throwing a big party at some point that week, stay tuned … George Adams Gallery has opened its new space in Tribeca, with the storefront found by downtown’s top white-cube procurer, Jonathan Travis … 

George Adams Gallery in Tribeca. Photo courtesy George Adams Gallery.

SPOTTED 

Four editions of Good Hair I (2021) by Hugh Hayden, included in his new show at Lisson, “Huey.” Photo by Nate Freeman.

*** Hundreds of downtown artists, dealers, and collectors at the Bowery Grand Hotel party hosted by Lisson Gallery to mark the openings of shows by Hugh Hayden and Van Hanos, both extremely buzzy and must-see …  David Zwirner throwing the afterparty for the opening of “More Life,” a series of shows marking the 40th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic, with a party at Julius, said to be the oldest continuously operated gay bar in New York *** Actress and noted hanger-on to art cliques Margaret Qualley at Supper in the East Village with fellow actor Lucas Hedges ***

PARING SHOT

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A Battle in the Legal War Over Robert Indiana’s Legacy Ends as His Estate Settles With the Artist’s Longtime Representative


One chapter in the protracted legal battle over the legacy of the late Pop artist Robert Indiana has come to a close.

Last week, Indiana’s estate reached a out-of-court settlement with the artist’s longtime representative and holder of his copyrights, the Morgan Art Foundation, and the organization that oversees his former home, the Star of Hope Foundation.

According to a notice filed in a New York district court, the agreement “should fully resolve all claims” in the knotty case, which included allegations of defamation, breach of contract, copyright infringement, and violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act.

Details of the deal, however, were not revealed. The Morgan Art Foundation’s lawyers declined to comment when reached by Midnight Publishing Group News, and the Star of Hope Foundation did not immediately respond to email.

“The parties are conferring about a joint submission to the court to set forth their positions regarding next steps in the case,” the filing read.

On May 18, 2018, just one day before Indiana’s death at age 89, the Morgan Art Foundation filed a federal lawsuit against New York-based publisher Michael McKenzie and the artist’s caretaker, Jamie Thomas, alleging that they conspired to isolate the artist from his family and friends and make illegal artworks in Indiana’s name.

Robert Indiana's Vinalhaven home, Star of Hope. May, 2018. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette, Portland Press Herald via Getty Images.

Robert Indiana’s Vinalhaven home, Star of Hope. May, 2018. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette, Portland Press Herald via Getty Images.

McKenzie’s name was noticeably absent from the document submitted to court this month. According to the Portland Press Herald, he remains in a legal battle with both the estate and the Morgan Art Foundation. 

An arbitration hearing between McKenzie and the Indiana estate is set for March 22 in New York, where a judge will weigh in on McKenzie’s right to continue to create and sell editions of Indiana’s works, including his iconic HOPE sculptures. McKenzie contends that the agreement he forged with Indiana continues past the artist’s death, but the estate has argued otherwise, saying the publisher violated the contract.

“If they do not make a settlement with us, we will assert our rights in arbitration with the estate to continue making HOPE sculptures, and we will continue the litigation with Morgan in federal court,” McKenzie’s lawyer told the Herald

“What is mind-boggling about it is that everybody should know the fact that Michael McKenzie made $10 million for Robert Indiana on the HOPE sculptures and is willing to continue doing so and in fact claims he has a right to do so,” the lawyer went on. “Why they wouldn’t want that income stream to continue is something we can’t understand. It makes no sense to us.”

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