Sometimes, if you have money and collect art, the best you can hope for is an acrimonious divorce. The split between real-estate billionaire Harry Macklowe, a Westchester-born builder of every kind of Manhattan office tower and residential eyesore, and businesswoman Linda Burg-Macklowe, who were married during the Eisenhower administration—January 4, 1959—was just that. It was also good news for wealthy collectors of contemporary art.
In the months that followed the 2016 divorce, the couple battled in court over the spoils of more than a half-century of marriage. Their assets were divided—each reportedly walked away with around $500 million—with the exception of their art collection, which Charles Stewart, the chief executive officer of Sotheby’s, told Bloomberg News is “one of the most significant collections of modern and contemporary art in the world.”
Sixty-five pieces, including Picassos, Warhols, Giacomettis, and Koonses, were valued by assessors hired by each spouse. Alas, they did not value them equally—they were not even close. A Manhattan Supreme Court judge, acting in the way of King Solomon—the one who told the couple to split the baby—ordered them to be sold at auction, with the proceeds to be divided in half.
Sotheby’s, which bested Christie’s and Phillips in a competition to handle the sale, will display the art in Taipei, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, London, and Paris before holding the auction, over two sessions, in New York in November and May.
Their assets were divided—each reportedly walked away with around $500 million—with the exception of their art collection.
Le Nez, an Alberto Giacometti sculpture of a beak-nosed humanoid creature; No. 7, an eight-foot-tall color-field painting by Mark Rothko; Nine Marilyns, a portrait featuring nine slightly varying silkscreens of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol; Pablo Picasso’s sculpture of Apollinaire; a Cy Twombly splatter painting (Untitled) of the my-kid-could-do-that variety—these works, many of them considered masterpieces, are estimated to bring in $600 million to $800 million.
In addition to works of art, the new owners will come into possession of the sadly comical story of the fabulously rich octogenarian divorcé and divorcée born during the Great Depression; raised in the 1940s, when Wyatt Earp’s common-law wife Josephine Marcus was alive and well and living in Los Angeles; married in the 50s; and divorced well into the 21st century, by which time the world of their childhood had come apart like wet paper.
Not only did the Macklowes call it quits; they seemed determined to hurt each other. After Henry Macklowe married French former fashion executive Patricia Landeau, in 2019, he had a huge billboard of himself and his new wife posted on the corner of his building at 432 Park Avenue, where his ex-wife, Linda, was likely to see it every day.
It’s like the old joke: a couple in their 90s files for divorce. The judge asks why they’re splitting after 70 years of marriage.
“Because,” says the man, “we were waiting for the children to die.”
Rich Cohen is a Writer at Large for Air Mail