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Billionaire couple sells off $676M of art in divorce settlement

todayNovember 16, 2021 1

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Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

This article was updated with final prices and other details following the first auction.

Nearly three years after the high-profile divorce proceedings of New York real estate developer Harry Macklowe and his wife, Linda, a portion of their art collection has smashed estimates to sell for over $676 million.

An initial batch of 35 artworks went under the hammer Monday, including pieces by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly. A work by abstract painter Mark Rothko fetched $82.5 million while Jackson Pollock’s “Number 17, 1951” sold for over $61 million to set a new record for the artist’s work.

Cy Twombly's untitled work from 2007 sold for almost $59 million.

Cy Twombly’s untitled work from 2007 sold for almost $59 million. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

“It’s a collection that has never been moved (or) touched,” said GrĂ©goire Billault, chairman of contemporary art for Sotheby’s, at a press event announcing the two-part auction in September. “Quite often, when we have collections for sale, a lot of it has been sold already, or some (works) are given to museums; others are given to members of the family.”

The Macklowes married in their early 20s in 1959 and had since accrued all of their significant assets together, including a $72 million apartment, a yacht and multiple commercial properties, according to court documents. They started their art collection shortly after they married.

Giacometti's "Le Nez" (left) sold for $78.4 million, while Andy Warhol's "Nine Marilyns" (right) fetched $47.4 million.

Giacometti’s “Le Nez” (left) sold for $78.4 million, while Andy Warhol’s “Nine Marilyns” (right) fetched $47.4 million. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

In 2018, during their divorce proceedings, a New York State Supreme Court judge ordered the Macklowes to sell 65 artworks from their collection and split the profits, after the couple’s hired experts provided vastly different appraisals of what some of the artworks were worth. Valuations for Alberto Giacometti’s existential sculpture “La Nez,” for instance, varied by $30 million.

The court decision set off a battle between auction houses Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips to bring the collection to market; the appointed art dealer, Michael Findlay, delayed the decision last year due to the pandemic, according to Artnet.
Mark Rothko's painting "No. 7" (left), which sold for $82.5 million, and Pablo Picasso's sculpture "Figure" (right), which exceeded estimates to fetch $26.3 million.

Mark Rothko’s painting “No. 7” (left), which sold for $82.5 million, and Pablo Picasso’s sculpture “Figure” (right), which exceeded estimates to fetch $26.3 million. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

The Giacometti sculpture eventually sold for over $78 million, the second-highest price achieved at Monday’s auction. Elsewhere, Warhol’s “Nine Marilyns” — one of the Pop artist’s famed serial screen prints of Marilyn Monroe — fetched over $47 million and a Picasso sculpture honoring French poet Apollinaire made over $26 million.

The remaining 30 artworks will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s New York in May 2022.

Why is art so expensive?

At a virtual press event announcing the sale in September, Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart had called the Macklowe Collection “one of the most significant and museum-quality collections of modern and contemporary art ever to come to market.”

He added: “This sale will… make history as the defining moments in the art market.”

Top image: Harry and Linda Macklowe attending the Guggenheim International Gala Dinner in 2015.

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