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What Can We Learn From The Macklowe Art Collection? Auctioned at Over $922 Million

In this article, you will learn who the Macklowe family is, how they created such an astonishing art collection, what art collecting-couples can learn from them, and the state of the art market. Let’s get into it!

Harry Macklowe, Linda Macklowe, and 737 Park overlayed Warhol’s 9 Marilyn’s collage (Credit: Getty Images and Wikipedia)

One of Manhattan's most bitter billionaire divorces helped Sotheby's achieve a total record sale for a private art collection at auction, $922 million, with fees. The trove consisted of just 65 high-value pieces (all of which sold), and it exceeded the Rockefeller collection sale at Christie's in 2018, which made $832 million. 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."

The Macklowe collection consisted of modern and contemporary artworks by artists such as Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and Cy Twombly, among other blue-chip names. The first auction took place in November 2021, which brought in USD 676.1m, and its second part made USD 246.1m this past Monday. Even though much of the energy and money in recent years has shifted toward younger, emerging names, particularly female artists and artists of color, the Macklowe sale showed plenty of demand for works by museum-validated names. Especially from artists whose works have ​​become scarce, such as artwork by the abstract expressionist Mark Rothko whose oil on canvas painting No. 7 (1951), featuring stacked blocks of nude pink, chartreuse, and Orange, sold for $82 million. It nearly exceeded the artist's auction record of $86.8 million, set in 2012 when Orange, red, yellow (1961) sold at Christie's. 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." Before the auction sales, Sotheby's sent the collection on tour to Taipei, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, London, Los Angeles, and Paris before they arrived in New York. More than 27,000 people attended the previews around the world.

With all the press the Macklowe Sotheby's sale is receiving, I find it necessary to understand who the Macklowes are – meaning the original Macklowes, Harry and Linda, not Harry and his current wife, Patricia Landeauand. It is also essential to know their art collection history. I think we can all learn something from them to apply to how we acquire art and form our collections, despite not all of us being billionaires like them.

Mark Rothko, No. 7 (1951). sold for $82 million USD, fees included. Source: Sotheby's.

Who Are The Macklowe?

Real estate tycoon Harry Macklowe and his former wife Linda married in their early 20s in 1959. Both came from middle-class Jewish families, and neither had significant assets entering the marriage. Harry was a college dropout who founded Macklowe Properties in the mid-1960s and turned it into one of the city's largest real estate empires. Linda grew up going to New York City museums and the Art Students League. In the late 1970s, she curated sculpture exhibitions at Wave Hill in Riverdale and in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, just north of the United Nations. She became a trustee of the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Guild Hall in East Hampton. They became one of the most famous collecting couples in the art world because they were known to buy art to keep it long-term.

After 57 years of marriage, Linda filed for divorce in 2016 after finding out about her husband's affair with a much younger woman. According to court documents, the former couple had accrued all of their significant assets together, including a $72 million apartment, a yacht, and multiple commercial properties. Mr. Macklowe is often reported to be a billionaire, but in 2019, Forbes estimated the couple had a net worth of between $900 million and $1.1 billion before the divorce. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Macklowe divorce is that the couple's most significant asset was not their substantial real estate ­holdings but their art collection.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (1960). sold for $48 million USD, fees included. Source: Sotheby's.

When & How Did The Macklowes Start Their Art Collection?

The Macklowes started their art collection shortly after they married. Neither one of them came from art-collector families. They immersed themselves in the art scene of New York City and got to know the artists of their time by visiting commercial galleries and getting to know the art dealers. For nearly 60 years, the former couple collected artworks by the world's elite contemporary and modern artists. Prime examples of the pieces they acquired were by canonical white male artists such as Warhol, Richter, Rothko, and Cy Twombly, traditionally viewed as blue-chip investments. It was former Mrs. Macklowe that made curating the collection her chief occupation. Just as Mr. Macklowe was known for taking risks in the real-estate sector where he made his fortune, the couple did the same when it came to art.

One of the key takeaways from this collection is that the Macklowes bought artworks and held them for long periods of time, allowing them to appreciate in value. This created value for the art pieces they owned and established trust with the dealers who knew they were reliable collectors who were not looking to buy and flip art for profit.

Cy Twombly, Untitled (2007). Sold for over $58 million USD, fees included. Source: Sotheby's.

How Can You Start A Valuable Art Collection?

Aside from collecting works by dead and canonized 20th-century postwar titans, the Macklowes also acquired art from their contemporaries that they believed had a bright future in the art world. Their ability to foresee which artworks the next generation would deem masterpieces was one of the critical ingredients of building a valuable art collection. Just as they bought works by Jeff Koons in the 1980s, you can acquire art from current emerging artists at affordable prices. And of course, as mentioned before, keeping artworks for the long term is the best way to allow your collection to appreciate in value.

Visiting MFA grad shows is a great way to find new talent and a way to invest in an artist's career at an early stage. Another way to find fabulous pieces to start an art collection is by visiting galleries representing emerging artists and selling artworks under $10,000. If you don't have the time to visit galleries or do due diligence on an artwork or artist, then hiring an art advisor might be helpful for you. An art advisor can help you guide you in identifying artists worth investing in and do all the due diligence so that you can make an educated decision when buying art.

Andy Warhol, Self Portrait (1986). Sold for over $18 million USD, including fees. Source: Sotheby's.

Why Did The Macklowe Private Art Collection Come to Auction?

The main reasons artworks come to the public auction are debt, divorce, and death, also known as "the three D's." In the case of the Macklowes, it was their bitter divorce. When the hearings started in court, the question of how to divide the art collection became the central point in the split. The feuding couple's inability to agree on the collection's valuation and how to divide it was settled by a judge who appointed a receiver (neutral third-party officer of the appointing court) to handle the valuation and have the entire collection be sold at auction. Sotheby's was the receiver's choice, and the auction house decided to split the collection across two seasons to avoid flooding the market with too many significant works by the same artists all at once.

Andy Warhol, Nine Marilyns (1962). Sold for over $47 million USD, including fees. Source: Sotheby's.

How To Protect An Art Collection During Divorce?

You and your partner built a respectable art collection, but unforeseen events occur and now you two are getting a divorce. What happens to the art?

If you have the opportunity to plan ahead, a pre or post-nuptial agreement can be a practical way of protecting art, antiques, and heritage property assets, to avoid the stress and uncertainty of negotiating who will keep them if you separate or divorce. You don't want to leave things up to a judge to decide, because the court will only order that everything be sold just like in the Macklowe case. Former Mrs. Macklowe didn't want to sell any of the pieces she acquired throughout the years, but the couple’s inability to plan in advance resulted in the artworks being sold to the highest bidders.

Cy Twombly, Untitled (1961). Sold for over $20 million USD, fees included. Source: Sotheby's.

What Can We Learn From The Art Market From This Auction?

The Macklowe sale showed there is still plenty of demand for works by dead white male artists. Despite signs that collectors were moving towards fresh new names, specifically artists previously marginalized in the art market, deep pocket collectors are not willing to pass up works by historically famous names. Works by Mark Rothko, Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, William De Kooning, and Albert Giacometti were among the sale’s most expensive pieces. A painting by Rothko entitled "N ° 7" was the most expensive item of the evening after it sold for $82.5million. It was closely followed by a bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti entitled "Le Nez" - or "The Nose" - which sold for $78.4million. Both works were purchased remotely by Asian collectors, Sotheby's said. With bidders from all over the world, this sale was a clear indication of how the ultra-rich invest in art to hedge their money against the insecurities of the financial markets with stocks going down and interest rates being at an all-time high.

Source: Sotheby's


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