The Macklowe Art Collection

Download this article

Jonathan Horwich, Modern Art Specialist

Not many couples in their 80s and married for 60 years would embark on a very arduous and public divorce. However, Linda and Harry Macklowe have been doing just that since June 2017 in the New York courts.


This Andy Warhol Red Self Portrait from 1986 was estimated in court at $20 million. A purple 1986 Warhol self-portrait back in 2010 made $32 million, versus its then cautious $10-15 million estimate.

Interestingly, the only thing they couldn’t agree on was the value of 64 major art pieces. With each side using their own nominated valuer, they constantly debated in court over the value; Linda maintaining the collection to be worth $625 million whilst Harry insisting on a $788 million value.

This ‘untitled’ XXXIII work by William de Kooning is a very rare and beautiful piece estimated in court at $10 million. Similar pictures, including some from the collection of Alfred Taubman, have made upwards of $24 million and the auction record for de Kooning is $68 million…

This case demonstrates the relative ease with which money, shares, property, jewellery and other assets can be assessed and agreed upon, conversely underlining the subjective nature of art values. Exactly how precise can you be? Qualified appraisers in the USA use a recognised formal valuation called Fair Market Value or FMV which is set at the mid auction estimate. However, if the estimate moves then FMV changes too. For example, the Macklowe collection was valued at $1 billion for insurance, including Linda’s $40 million tranche. Harry’s market value number of $788 for the remaining 64 pieces is not far away from the Insurance value, which then ought to be higher as it represents the replacement value.

This is one of the most valuable single works, Nine Marilyns by Andy Warhol, valued in court at $50 million. In November 2015 Warhol’s ‘Four Marilyns’ sold for $36 million in New York. You can amuse yourself by doing the maths to work out what nine might make!

Andy Warhol’s Sixteen Jackies is valued at $25 million. This piece was bought by Harry at auction in 2006 for $15,700,000. Interestingly, there is nothing directly comparable that has sold since, except perhaps a Double Elvis which came up at Christie’s NY in November 2019 and made $53 million.

With the New York Contemporary and Modern sales around the corner in May, all the major auction houses will be full steam ahead putting in their best pitches and, most importantly in this high-stake game, their best numbers. Intriguingly, the biggest number may not be the winner, unless it comes with a financial guarantee to back it up. The trick is having an estimate that is both attractive to the seller (ie high) and to the buyer (low) – an almost impossible task in this scenario. On a legal point, although it’s possible someone may come up with an offer for the collection in its entirety, the US courts would prefer a public sale at auction as there would be greater transparency and visibility to all involved.

This Jeff Koons sculpture titled ‘Aqualung’ was produced in an edition of 3 + 1 artist’s copy. One sold at auction for $1.7 million in 2006, another in 2004 for $4.6 million and in 2014 one sold for just over $11.5 million. The court has put $10 million on this one.

I have illustrated a few of the major works from the collection referred to in court to give you a flavour of what will be no doubt a major highlight of the Spring auction season in New York. Look out for the final estimates when the sales catalogues come out!