Divorcing New York couple’s art collection raises nearly $700m in record-breaking auction

Just half of the art hoard amassed by Harry and Linda Macklowe made for Sotheby’s biggest ever sale when works by Rothko, Picasso and Warhol were auctioned off

Io Dodds
Tuesday 16 November 2021 23:10
<p>Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker leads an auction of the Macklowe Collection alongside Robert Ryman’s ‘Untitled’ in New York, 15 November, 2021</p>

Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker leads an auction of the Macklowe Collection alongside Robert Ryman’s ‘Untitled’ in New York, 15 November, 2021

A rich New York couple’s art hoard has become the most valuable auction in the entire history of Sotheby’s after a divorce court ordered the pair to sell it off.

Real estate tycoon Harry Macklowe and his art curator wife Linda amassed 65 valuable works by artists including Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock in their 57 years of marriage.

But after splitting up in 2016 and fighting a bitter 14-week divorce trial, they were told by a judge to liquidate their "internationally renowned collection" and divide the profits.

On Monday Sotheby’s said the Macklowe collection had raised $676m (£503m) before a crowd of 300 art fans, the most valuable single-owner sale ever and the biggest auction of any kind in Sotheby’s 277-year history.

Nor was that even the final haul, since Monday’s sale included only 35 works in the Macklowes’ trove. The rest will be auctioned next May.

"Tonight was the kind of sale auctioneers dream about,” said auctioneer Oliver Barker after the close. “It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Art handlers hang Mark Rothko’s ‘No. 7’, part of The Macklowe Collection, at Sotheby’s on 5 November, 2021 in New York City

Harry Macklowe told Artnet he was "very, very pleased and happy" and feels "very privileged". Linda, who fought unsuccessfully to prevent the auction, was present but did not speak to the press.

The Macklowes’ split sent shockwaves through New York high society when it became public in 2016, triggering a closely watched trial over assets worth close to $2bn.

Mrs Macklowe had filed for divorce after Mr Macklowe left him for a younger woman.

After the trial, Mr Macklowe married Patricia Landeau and hung a gigantic poster of them both on a building where Mrs Macklowe had once planned to buy an apartment.

Their art collection, once proudly displayed in their apartment covering the entire seventh floor of the Plaza Hotel, overlooking Central Park, was most coveted of all, with works by Alberto Giacometti, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gerhard Richter and Cy Twombly.

Experts saw the Sotheby’s auction as a test of the high-end art market, which has struggled since the beginning of lockdown 19 months ago. The total value of all sales dropped by 22 per cent during 2020, according to a report by Art Basel and UBS.

Alberto Giacometti’s ‘Le Nez’ at the auction

“The market has felt hungry for quality, and this collection meets that hunger,” said Sotheby’s head of fine art sales Brooke Lampley.

“It’s an incredibly calibrated collection, with artists represented in depth. None of the works is redundant. They come from different periods and are emblematic of a particular stage in the artist’s career. They are all masterpieces.”

The top performer was Rothko’s 1951 work No 7, an eight-foot-tall abstract painting comprising three blocks of solid orange, yellow and pink, bleeding into each other and the canvas at their edges. Having never been auctioned before, it went to an East Asian buyer for $82.5m.

Giacometti’s Le Nez, a 1947 sculpture of an alarming skeletal head and neck with a very long nose, sold for $78.4m with fees. Cryptocurrency investor Justin Sun tweeted that he was the buyer.

“There is no question that the market raised its hand tonight, not just for masterworks, but to honour the art of collecting at its highest level,” said Sotheby’s executive Mari-Claudia Jimenez.

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