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Billionaire Divorce Battle Hobbled By Art Collection

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , 1 November 2019

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The story throws light on how big art collections can be caught up in the emotional and legal battles around divorce.

Real estate developer Harry Macklowe and his estranged wife’s art collection, worth almost $1.0 billion, has been a major debating point in their split, throwing a light on how such possessions are affected by divorce law.

A report by the New York Times and other outlets noted how Macklowe, 81, and his ex-wife, Linda, finalised their divorce late in 2018 after 59 years of marriage. One hurdle to surmount is how they split their collection of more than 150 pieces by artists including Mark Rothko, Pablo Picasso and Jeff Koons.

David Redden, former vice chairman of Sotheby’s, the auctioneers, was quoted saying: "The art world will be fighting over it.” He called the collection "fairly staggering" and "one of the great prizes”.

Macklowe is reportedly worth almost $2.5 billion. His former wife is an avid art collector and an honorary trustee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The business of handling and investing in fine art is one that has drawn attention from wealth managers and private banks who realise this area is an important, and not-so-small “niche”. Art raises various issues around ownership, transfer, provenance and storage. In recent years jurisdictions such as the European Union have also tightened anti-money laundering rules to prevent abuses in the art market. In May this year Citi Private Bank said it was partnering with Sotheby’s, focusing more attention on how the bank works with art investors and collectors as part of its value offering. (See an interview this news service recently carried out with a new art advisory business linked to the wealth manager Hottinger.)

Art advisory support can deepen client loyalty and help wealth advisors learn more about how their clients think. And the sums involved are large. The recent Art Basel and UBS report on the total art market gives a global figure of $67 billion for the sector.

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