Where in the world is 32 year old art dealer Inigo Philbrick?
The mysterious young dealer burst onto the art scene years ago, bidding for million-dolllar works before age 30, his name written down in the rolodex of every art-collecting billionaire.
But now, he has vanished. And as Bloomberg reports, his name was one of the biggest topics of discussion in Miami Beach this week, where Art Basel – one of the biggest events in the art industry – is taking place.
His disappearance comes after a wave of lawsuits filed against him for fraud in London, New York and Miami. The aftershock has left the Art Basel crowd fearing that it could stoke broader fears about the often-opaque industry globally.
The story, not unlike the industry itself, stretches around the globe. It has links and ties to major auction houses, including an art-finance firm backed by George Soros. Los Angeles-based art dealer Timothy Blum said: “It checks every box in a bad way. So gross.”
The scandal centers around allegations that Philbrick sold the same art works to different investors, often at inflated prices. Just like with rehypothecated collateral, companies in Asia, Europe and the U.S. have all staked claims to the same art pieces.
The allegations emerged in October which is when Philbrick disappeared. His gallery in Miami has been closed and he hasn’t been spotted for weeks at the trendy Japanese restaurant where he was once a regular. There was a “For Rent” sign hanging outside of his London gallery.
Meanwhile, he failed to appear for court last month in both Miami and London and his lawyers in Miami have stopped representing him; his whereabouts have raised questions across the industry.
Wendy Goldsmith, a London-based art adviser, asked: “What was he thinking?”
Adam Lindemann, a dealer and collector, said: “Philbrick seemed to come out of nowhere, and [I] was never quite sure where he got his funding. He had this charming, rogue manner about him. The art world always has people like this.”
Lowell Pettit, an art adviser in New York, said: “Philbrick seemed to have a lot of money behind him at a very early point in his career. In short order, his name started to light up.”
But the lawsuits paint a picture that Philbrick was not who he appeared. One company suing him says he holds $70 million in assets and put the combined value of the art managed by his business at $150 million. His collection includes a single painting, by Jean-Michel Basquiat, that Philbrick agreed to “buy” with a partner at an inflated price of $18.4 million. The price was inflated by about $6 million, the partner later found out.
Another contested work by Yayoi Kusama is worth about $3.4 million and is drawing crowds in Miami next to Philbrick’s gallery, at Miami’s Institute of Contemporary Art. A German company that bought the work through Philbrick now wants it back. There is just one problem: piece was sold months ago “to the Royal Commission for AlUla in a private transaction through Phillips auction house.”
The allegations have also shocked those that know Philbrick. He grew up in an artistic family, but had been estranged from his father for almost a decade. One classmate of his described him as “quiet and artsy”. The mother of his child said they hadn’t been together “in years” and declined to comment.
In 2010, Philbrick joined the prestigious White Cube gallery in London as an intern and quickly became a favorite of its owner, Jay Jopling. Jopling said: “He struck me as a smart, ambitious young man with a good eye for art and an impressive commercial sense. He progressed quickly and in 2012 launched Jopling’s secondary-market business.”
Jopling said he “agreed to support him financially” when Philbrick wanted to go out on his own.
Now, Jopling finds himself just another person on the long line of those suing Philbrick.