Real Estate

Macklowe collection goes on the auction block in resurgent art market

The auctioneer’s gavel that hits the rostrum on Monday evening at Sotheby’s New York headquarters will not be the last one that real estate developer Harry Macklowe and his former wife Linda hear as they hammer out the division of their assets.

The first portion of their museum-like art collection heads to auction tonight after the pair failed to come to an agreement on how to value many of the dozens of pieces they had collected during their marriage.

Sotheby’s has estimated the 35 works up for auction will fetch $400m or more by the night’s end, with six masterpieces expected to bring in at least $20m each, including a macabre Alberto Giacometti sculpture and a Mark Rothko painting of blocks of green, lavender and burnt orange.

The sale is the capstone in a busy fortnight of auctions in Manhattan. Christie’s last week sold just over $1.1bn of art as part of the twice-yearly season in New York. Sotheby’s and Phillips estimate their sales this week will top at least $950m as the art market roars back to life following the pandemic.

The Macklowes’ acrimonious divorce made for tabloid fodder and captivated New York society. Harry Macklowe in 2019 put up giant photos of himself and his new wife on one of his luxury Park Avenue developments, a move seen as a taunt to his former wife.

So sweeping and anticipated is the sale of the Macklowe art collection that it will not share the stage with lots from other owners, as is customary at the major twice yearly sales in New York.

Linda Macklowe had resisted an outright sale, but she and her former husband could not come to terms over the value of many of the works that they had amassed over several decades. In one instance, their appraisals on one work differed by about $30m. A judge in New York ordered the former couple to liquidate much of the collection.

“There are different ways an evaluator could look at what is comparable or what’s good to use to make adjustments,” said Anita Ventrelli, senior partner at family law firm Schiller DuCanto & Fleck. “Are there pieces by the same artist? What artists are competitive with the subject? It is more daunting because pieces of art can be more unique than other things.”

Linda Macklowe declined to comment while Harry Macklowe could not be reached for comment.

The sales, once delayed because of the pandemic, land in an art market that has found its legs, particularly at the high-end. A five-minute bidding war ensued last week for a Vincent van Gogh at Christie’s, with the painting of wooden huts nestled amid olive trees ultimately selling for more than $71m to a bidder in the room. Sotheby’s has estimated that the Rothko and Giacometti could sell for between $70m and $90m apiece.

Next year, Sotheby’s will offer the remaining portion of the Macklowe art collection that the two were ordered to sell.


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