Vanity, greed and adultery – the backdrop to an arts auction

Sotheby’s to auction ‘most significant collection of modern and contemporary art ever’

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2007, is guiding at $40 million-$60 million

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2007, is guiding at $40 million-$60 million

 

Behind the sale of the Macklowe Collection is a story that appears to have it all; a tale of vanity, greed, adultery, love and loss not to mention one of the most acrimonious divorces in US history. And it saw auctioneer giants Sotheby’s and Christie’s battle it out to secure the sale of the collection, a treasure trove of works estimated to generate $600 million (€517 million).

Because Harry Macklowe and Linda Macklowe, his wife of 58 years, could not agree how to value the masterpieces collected during their marriage, New York State Supreme Court Justice Laura Drager ordered the sale of their art collection, which was among the couple’s most valuable possessions. Estimates differed between both sides to the tune of $30 million and, having won the rights to the sale, Sotheby’s announced in a superlative-laden webinar that the company would auction what they called the “most significant collection of modern and contemporary art to ever appear on the market”. It added – like the cat who got both the cream and the early bird’s worm – that it was “the highest estimated private art collection to ever come to auction”.

Though once declared a billionaire, New York property mogul Macklowe – who paid $1 billion for the General Motors Building in 2003 – defaulted on the loans he used to fund a $7 billion buyout of properties from Blackstone, which hit the family finances hard. But perhaps harder still for the family was the night Harry met Patricia Landeau, the 65-year-old French former fashion executive and mother of four. The pair met in 2011 at a private showing of his art and Landeau, in an interview with the New York Post, described it as “love at first sight”. When they eventually went on a first date in Cannes, octogenarian Macklowe fell asleep and Landeau, citing jetlag, chose not to wake him. Then in 2019, at the age of 82, Macklowe married Landau after his very public divorce from Linda, saying of his new love: “We don’t go to sleep – we talk in bed all night.”

Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez is expected to achieve $70 million
Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez is expected to achieve $70 million

Skyscraper trouble

The pair were due to move into 432 Park Avenue, the Macklowe-developed 425m tall skyscraper in New York, at the time the tallest residential building in the world and where buyers tripped over themselves to purchase a slice of billionaires’ row. By 2020 allegations of defects appeared in the New York Times and two elevators were out of service in the 85-floor tower. Residents of the 125 apartments also took issue with the private restaurant service charge per household which went from €1,200 in 2015 to €15,000 in 2020. An engineering report conducted for the board of residents, who are suing the developers, discovered an alleged 1,500 flaws in the building. Architect Rafael Vinoly described Macklowe as “a truck driver with an education in aesthetics” while Macklowe retorted saying Vinoly had “penis envy” among the city’s developers. Either way, what appears to have shaken the skyscraper most happened in 2019, the day Macklowe and Landeau wed. As a so-called wedding present, he hung a gigantic portrait of the couple spanning 1,000sq ft across the tower for all in New York to see.

The sale of the artworks is to fund the lifestyles of the divorced Macklowes, as they appear to be asset rich with 60 per cent of their wealth tied up in their art collection. It will take place in two standalone auctions. The first half will be sold at Sotheby’s in New York on November 15th while the second part is scheduled for May.

Rothko and Giacometti

Star lots in the collection are a Rothko and Giacometti, both of which are expected to sell for in excess of $70 million each in the first sale. Entitled Le Nez, Albert Giacometti’s head with a Pinocchio-esque nose suspended in a cage, was conceived in 1949 and cast around 1964.

“Giacometti’s Le Nez dominates a room like few other sculptures I have ever seen,” says Helena Newman, Sotheby’s chairman, Europe, and worldwide head of Impressionist and Modern art. “It encapsulates the aesthetic and intellectual essence of Giacometti’s art.”

Mark Rothko, No 7 ($70 million)
Mark Rothko, No 7 ($70 million)
Gerhard Richter, Seestück, 1975 ($25 million-$35 million)
Gerhard Richter, Seestück, 1975 ($25 million-$35 million)

From Mark Rothko’s key period in the early 1950s and described as “embodying the best of the artist’s palette, light and mood”, is No 7, from 1951 with blocks of colour that are among the artist’s best-known motifs. Towering to almost eight feet in green, orange and lavender it has been widely exhibited and was once in the ownership of American collector Sarah Campbell Blaffer.

Estimated to fetch $40 million-$60 million (€34.5m-€51.7m)is the iconic Nine Marilyns by Andy Warhol. The black and white silkscreen, based on a 1953 photograph of Marilyn Monroe, is one of only six in which the photograph is repeated nine times or more.

Other important works in the sales include Picasso, Jeff Koons and Willem de Kooning. Sotheby’s won the battle against other auction houses for the collection and agreed to guarantee it. This means it will step in and buy any works for which there is no external bidder.  

sothebys.com

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