Jan 14, 2019
News

The divorce of one of the art world’s most powerful couples threatens to expose the art market’s closed-door dealings.

Libbie and David Mugrabi. Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Libbie and David Mugrabi. Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Art world power couple Libbie and David Mugrabi’s divorce may make public details of one of the most discrete sectors of the art market. An article published over the weekend in The New York Times details the lead-up to what reporter Ben Widdicombe suggests could, based on an initial hearing in November, be a long and contentious battle in court.

The report relies heavily on interviews with Libbie Mugrabi (David declined interview requests), but outlines the stakes for a high-end sector of the art market—“the most opaque thing in the world,” as art journalist Linda Yablonsky described it.

As Widdicombe writes:

“More than a tabloid story, the divorce also threatens to expose the private dealings of one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the art world. Mr. Mugrabi, 47, is the scion of a powerful art-dealing family that is reportedly worth $5 billion and owns some 1,000 works by Warhol, making it the world’s largest private holding.”

Widdicombe details some of the art that could come into question during the divorce proceedings:

“When Ms. Mugrabi left the Hamptons house to consult a divorce lawyer, she said that moving trucks arranged by her husband arrived to remove the most valuable art.
“He took a bunch of Basquiats, he took multiple Warhols, he took about a dozen KAWS paintings out of the house. Two huge George Condos,” she said. “I would say he took at least $200 million in art.”
Ms. Mugrabi believes that her husband was trying to hide the assets from a potentially expensive divorce.”

More illuminating for art market watchers may, however, be questions around the extent to which Libbie Mugrabi was involved in the success of the family’s art dealing, which the Times says was primarily conducted at their home, with the family matriarchs facilitating an environment where David and his brother Alberto, along with their father Jose, could conduct multi-million dollar art transactions.

The question to be answered in the divorce proceedings is whether she can prove a significant role in these dealings:

“While Ms. Mugrabi does not likely have a right to the wealth Mr. Mugrabi brought into the relationship, she could have a significant claim on the family’s art business, and potentially the art.
“The goal here is to prove the extent of Ms. Mugrabi’s contributions to the couple’s business and how the money is held,” [matrimonial lawyer Ken] Jewell said. “If you can prove the money exists, then there is a claim. Then the question becomes: Where’s the money?”