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Tasteful art, bitter divorce: How a rich couple’s acrimonious divorce ended in an astounding art auction

Tasteful art, bitter divorce: How a rich couple’s acrimonious divorce ended in an astounding art auction

Ultra-high-net-worth couples who end up divorcing rarely have to experience a drastic lifestyle change. Melinda Gates (Bill Gates’s ex-wife) and MacKenzie Scott (Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife) are certainly not reducing their grocery budgets because they felt the need to be frugal after spending thousands of dollars on their divorce.

That said, divorcing affluent couples may run into some trouble over divvying up their assets precisely because there are way too many. This is a distinctly rich-people problem, something that high-society exes Harry Macklowe and Linda Macklowe have.

The low-down on the Macklowes’ divorce

Real estate magnate Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife Linda were married for 57 years. When they married in 1959, they had modest wealth under their name. Harry owned what was then a humble real estate company (Macklowe Properties), which eventually became one of America’s biggest real estate empires. Linda was an art curator and a true connoisseur.

Throughout their marriage, they accumulated vast amounts of assets, including a $72 million apartment, a $23 million yacht, and a $19 million house in the Hamptons. And with Linda as the driving force behind their impressive collection, they also amassed an enviable art collection that could make the curators at MoMA and the British Museum weep.

The power couple famously had heated, public spats, which eventually resulted in Linda filing for divorce in 2016. Unlike the relatively quiet divorces of other billionaire couples like the Bezoses and the Gateses, the Macklowes’ split was acrimonious.

It is said that money can’t buy love. What money also can’t buy is an amicable divorce; at least, not always.

Can you imagine having to auction off your marital assets because there are just so many?

And in two parts? The former Mr. and Mrs. Macklowe can.

The former couple accumulated over $2 billion worth of assets after being married for more than half a century. Naturally, there were going to be very busy lawyers when they split.

One asset of note was the General Motors Building, which Harry would have loved to keep as it purportedly symbolized the apex of his career. He bought it for $1.3 billion in 2013, perhaps one day when he got bored and decided online shopping was unexciting.

He wanted to keep the building, but according to journalist Vicky Ward (who wrote a book about real estate tycoons like Harry Macklowe), Linda pressed him to sell it. Meanwhile, Linda wanted to keep their art collection together even after the divorce was finalized. But because Harry was not pleased about having to sell his building, he told Linda, “Nope.”

Besides the fact, a judge concluded that crucial to determining the worth of their art collection was to sell it, seeing as their lawyers couldn’t agree on the value of the pieces. So off to the auction houses they went.

The big winner in this divorce…

…was Sotheby’s.

The Macklowes’ art collection gave the auction house its biggest sale, reportedly even bigger than what Sotheby’s made when Peggy and David Rockefeller (also high-net-worth individuals) sold their collection. The difference between the Rockefellers and the Macklowes is that the Rockefellers sold their art pieces to benefit charities. The Macklowes had to sell theirs for reasons that have nothing to do with charity or selflessness.

Related reading: Celebrity divorce auctions that prove there’s life and profit after divorce

According to Sotheby’s chairman, the Macklowe collection was astounding not just in value but also in terms of variety, with many artists from different periods represented in the collection. It included pieces from Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and other very fine artists.

The court-ordered auction must have devastated Linda who was largely responsible for the curation of their stunning collection. Perhaps if Linda hadn’t insisted that Harry sell the General Motors Building, they probably would have been able to keep the art trove.

Hell hath no fury like a billionaire forced to sell his favorite building.

A popular saying goes: you can’t put a price on art. But you certainly can. The Macklowes’ art collection may have proven tough to value because of its sheer scale, but family law courts will always find a way.

Resolving a dissolution of marriage case in the Evergreen state is an art form we’ve mastered over the years. Consult family law attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams team for your divorce case. Leave us a message or visit our Renton law offices.