Divorce triggers ‘battle royal’ for billionaire's art collection

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Divorce is one of the “three Ds” that send masterpieces to the auction block. Death and debt are the others.

Sunday 16, December 2018

(Bloomberg)--The world’s biggest auction houses are girding for a fight over a $700 million art trove that a judge ordered to be sold to help resolve the divorce of billionaire developer Harry Macklowe and his estranged wife Linda.

“This is going to be a battle royal,” said Alex Rotter, a chairman of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, whose executives planned to gather Friday to discuss the implications of the court order. “The game is on.”

They’re likely to vie with Sotheby’s and Phillips, along with prominent dealers, to sell at least 64 works in the Macklowes’ collection, including Andy Warhol’s “Nine Marilyns"estimated at $50 million.

Divorce is one of the “three Ds” that send masterpieces to the auction block. Death and debt are the others.

The couple, who began collecting soon after they married in 1959, own works by other major artists, including Pablo Picasso and Mark Rothko. In a sign of the acrimony fuelling their prolonged legal dispute, the Macklowes couldn’t agree on how much the collection is worth. Harry’s expert said $788 million. Linda’s said $625 million.

“The art collection is the parties’ most valuable marital property," New York State Supreme Court Justice Laura Drager said in her ruling Thursday. “It’s an artistic accomplishment of which both parties have the right to be proud of having achieved.”

Most of the couple’s top works should be sold and the proceeds shared, Drager ruled. The court will appoint a receiver, a third party that acts on behalf of the spouses and determines the best way to sell the assets. The receiver typically gets a fee as an incentive to sell for the highest price. The couple have until late January to submit their preferred receivers.

The judge allowed Linda Macklowe, a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to keep 100 works valued at $39.9 million, and her husband will receive a credit for half that amount, according to the ruling. That group includes “Red Rocks (5),” a 2000-2002 painting by Brice Marden, valued at $12 million.

“They bought very early and they bought very well,” said Brett Gorvy, a co-owner of Levy Gorvy gallery and a former Christie’s executive.

The couple own two Rothko canvases, “No. 7" from 1951 and “Untitled" from 1960, and they’re worth about $100 million combined, according to Gorvy.

They bought Warhol’s “Sixteen Jackies" for $15.7 million at Christie’s in 2006.

TAGS : Harry Macklowe, art collection, Alex Rotter, Christie, Sotheby's, Phillips, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Laura Drager, Linda Macklowe, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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