under the gavel

Everything We Know About the Immense, Messy Macklowe Art Auction

The Macklowes, during (maybe) happier times. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

During the 57 years of their marriage, the real-estate mogul Harry Macklowe and his wife Linda amassed a massive and massively valuable collection of blue-chip 20th- and 21st-century art — including Rothko, Twombly, Warhol, Richter, Marden, Giacometti, de Kooning, Pollock, Picasso, Johns, and many more. And not just a single Warhol or Twombly — in many cases, multiple works per artist, “each one marking a distinct and critical moment in the respective careers,” according to Sotheby’s, which is auctioning off the couple’s collection in the aftermath of their ugly divorce. The house lays out estimates in excess of $600 million, the highest ever placed on a collection at auction. (The David Rockefeller collection, sold at Christie’s in 2018, pulled in $832 million against an estimate of $500 million.) The sale is scheduled in two sessions: one tonight, one next spring. As a former vice-chairman of Sotheby’s once said about the collection in the New York Times, “The art world will be fighting over it.”

Which is fitting, as the Macklowes were themselves notoriously rancorous. In her 2014 book The Liar’s Ball, Vicky Ward said that the marriage was “often compared to an Edward Albee play. Both Macklowes have been heard to disparage each other and their marriage forcibly and publicly.” And yet, despite the bitter complaints, “they were inseparable.” At least until 2016, when Harry left Linda for his girlfriend Patricia Landeau, president of the French Friends of the Israel Museum. Two years later, once the divorce went through, he hung 42-foot-high headshots of himself and his new bride on the outside of 432 Park, the super-tall he developed with CIM Group. (Appropriately, it too has reportedly started to fall apart.)

Why are the Macklowes selling — rather than divvying up — the art?

The collection, as Harry Macklowe’s divorce attorney David Boies once told an appeals court, constituted 60 to 75 percent of the couple’s assets. (The cash in their joint bank accounts totaled just $1.37 million, which they split, getting $689,941 each.) The art, Boies said, had to be sold for both Macklowes to sustain their lifestyle. Linda, an honorary trustee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, preferred to try selling it off piece by piece as she needed the money. That plan was nixed by Harry. And as the couple couldn’t agree on even the value of the art — their respective appraisers came in about $100 million apart — the court ordered the collection to be sold at auction. (Though Linda was allowed to hold on to a group of pieces collectively worth about $39 million.)

Just how much will be for sale?

Sixty-five pieces, 35 of which will be in the November auction. The couple owned so many paintings and sculptures that they could not be contained in their $72 million apartment at the Plaza, a seven-unit combination that runs the full length of one side of the building. Nor could the overflow fit into their $19 million Hamptons estate, according to the New York Times. Some had to be sent away to storage. The collection, a friend of Linda’s told Vicky Ward, “truly became the dominant, driving force” in Linda’s life. Harry, for his part, was said to enjoy the thrill of auction buying.

Why is the collection so valuable?

In addition to featuring so many famous artists, the collection has depth, with multiple pieces “forming an insightful portrait of the artists’ evolution over time,” according to Sotheby’s.

The star lot is Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez, a sculpture with a “Pinocchio-like” nose that pushes out beyond the bars of a cage that’s expected to fetch between $70 million and $90 million. “Prices for Giacometti sculptures first started soaring around 2010, when L’homme qui marche I became one of few works to pass the $100 million mark at auction,” according to Artnet.

Other big-ticket items include Andy Warhol’s Nine Marilyns, estimated at $40 million to $50 million; Cy Twombly’s Untitled, an 18-foot-wide canvas estimated at $40 million to $60 million; and Mark Rothko’s No. 7, painted in 1951 and estimated at $70 million to $90 million. Pieces by Jeff Koons, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter are also expected to go for a ton of money — just not, you know, quite that much.

Why are art people so excited about this?

COVID-19 depressed auction sales, but even before the pandemic, “auction houses have suffered from a scarcity of top-quality inventory,” according to the Times, “making a meaty collection like that of the Macklowes an especially energizing prize.” Christie’s competed for it, but Sotheby’s won, reportedly by offering a guarantee of $650 million to $700 million.

What about the rest of the couple’s property?

Linda got the 14,000-square-foot apartment at the Plaza, basically a midsize art museum with a bedroom suite attached. During the couple’s divorce, the real-estate appraiser Jonathan Miller told the court, “It’s probably the largest master bedroom I’ve ever seen.” Harry got a $36 million credit for the Plaza apartment, as well as their yacht. He took the cars; she took the silver. And they listed their Hamptons house for $21 million. It hasn’t sold yet.

Apart from those paintings Linda is keeping, is there any other art not included in the auction?

The enormous photographs of Harry Macklowe and his second wife that he hired a sign company to print on polyester mesh and hang on 432 Park.

Everything We Know About the Immense, Messy Macklowe Auction