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D is for Dealing in Art

‘For the Money, Your Honour’

(Inigo Philbrick’s answer to the judge in the biggest art fraud case in US history on why he did it).

I often think there are very many different art worlds out there – the one I inhabit, and the one that hits the news that others inhabit.  The story of art dealer Inigo Philbrick goes in the latter category.

Philbrick was freed earlier this year after serving just four of his seven year term for the biggest art fraud the US has seen after he plead guilty to defrauding collectors of $86.7m (approximately £80m), announcing his release to the world through a huge splash in Vanity Fair. Sensationalist journalism by Vanity Fair which seems to be glamorising Philbrick and his crime, alongside the arrogance of Philbrick is simply astounding. In the article Philbrick  announces his intention to re-enter the art world and to continue dealing in art. Buyer Beware!

How can it be that a criminal such as Philbrick is so easily rehabilitated into the art world ecosystem and able to transact again I hear you ask? A good question which The Art Newspaper podcast ‘A Week in Art’ unpicked, and is worth a listen.

The case of Philbrick plays to all the stereotypes of art dealers being unscrupulous, immoral party goers, brokering multi-million-dollar deals while high on illegal substances and lining their pockets with huge commissions. And while this may be the experience and reality of some in the art world, the likes of Philbrick are walking clichés who do such a disservice to those who work hard to bring value and connoisseurship to their work, and those who would go to the ends of the earth for their client.

Philbrick treated art as no more than an asset – buying to ‘flip’ the art from one market to the next, making a fast buck in the process.  So fast, it wasn’t legal and he couldn’t keep up with his own lies. He forged consignment notes from the major auction houses that asserted the art works had non-existent guarantees on them in order to falsely reassure investors, enabling him to sell multiple shares in the same work of art – without the different party’s knowledge – exceeding 100% ownership of the one artwork in many cases. Much like the Anna Delvey case (Delvey claimed to be an heiress worth millions and used money from others she encountered in the art world circus she inhabited to fund her glamourous lifestyle, until it all unravelled). What strikes me in both cases is how young Philbrick and Delvey both are, and how they were both seduced by the Instagrammable lifestyle of the art world to defraud others to live a jet-set, shallow experience.

The second story that broke recently is about the closure of legendary gallery, the Marlborough Gallery, after being in trade for over 70 years. Described as a ‘post-war art titan’ by the art newspaper, the gallery will close at the end of this month marking the end of an era.  ‘Leadership turmoil’ has been cited as the reason to close its premises in London, New York, Madrid and Barcelona. January’s filings this year have shown that the London gallery’s turnover dropped 35% from 11.7m to £7.7m in 2022.

The market hasn’t been this tough since COVID times for those dealing in art, and yet, there is no support right now for those at the coal face. Christie’s announced a drop in revenue of 25% in 2023 and Sotheby’s have just announced today a 10% cut in their workforce.

There’s no doubt that ‘dealing in art’ has its ups and its downs, and no one is immune. Our sister company, Zuleika Gallery, is closing its London office at the end of June at Cromwell Place. Cromwell Place is closing its doors and going through a transformation, planning a relaunch in the autumn. Endings are also opportunities. Zuleika Gallery is now focussed on bringing high end art to the Woodstock Gallery and condensing its offer to these premises.  In our advisory services here at Atelier Zuleika we are committed to giving sound advice – helping those wishing to navigate the artworld, avoiding the Delveys and Philbricks – to cut through the noise of the fashion and the fads – to focus on the fine and the quite simply fabulous.