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Inigo Philbrick Rehabs Himself; Timothy Chalamet with Red Hair?


It just doesn't get better than this. Marion Maneker explores the human nature of disgraced art dealer Inigo Philbrick. Question: How will Timothy Chalamet look with red hair?

Yes, good works do get rewarded. Marion Maneker, longtime arts columnist and author of the highly-lauded newletter Artelligence, has been elected to join the Puck media empire. His new private email, Wall Power, will cover the inside scoop on art and the art world.

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Inigo Time
by Marion Maneker

This month, Inigo Philbrick and his wife, Victoria Baker-Harber, have participated in splashy, confessional stories in both Vanity Fair and The Times of London. Philbrick, of course, was released from federal prison in March after serving less than four years of a seven-year sentence for an extensive fraud scheme wherein he sold “more than 100 percent ownership in an artwork to multiple individuals and entities without their knowledge” and also “sold and used art as collateral for loans without informing his co-owners or disclosing those ownership stakes to his lenders,” according to the prosecutors who put him behind bars.

The Times story revealed that Philbrick and Baker-Harber, whose own claim to fame was a villainous turn on British reality series Made in Chelsea, are also writing a book together and have been cooperating with the BBC on a three-part documentary. Separately, his former friend and employee, Orlando Whitfield, has a memoir out later this week in London, entitled All That Glitters: A Story of Friendship, Fraud, and Fine Art. (Whitfield’s book is being developed for HBO by Bad Wolf, the production company behind Industry, the show about sex-drugs-and-love among the junior investment banking set that has been renewed for a third season.)

Some people might want to disappear after such an ordeal, but Philbrick and Baker-Harber seem blithely eager to rehabilitate their image and return to the art world—a profession where you can’t get disbarred and a dealer’s stint in prison might even appeal to a rogue collector or two. The couple fantasized to the Times that they’d approve Margot Robbie and Timothée Chalamet portraying them. Inigo, who is 37 years old but got his start in the business more than a decade ago, was particularly generous to Chalamet, conceding that the young actor was qualified to play him because “he’d have the range.”

There’s a distinct lack of contrition in these public statements. “I don’t think that anyone in this whole story is guilty of much more than greed and ambition,” Inigo told the Times. “Everyone knew that things were being financed on a kite string. That doesn’t excuse me, but that’s a big part of the story.” He then he seemed to exculpate himself further by noting that his victims weren’t really hurt by his actions. “We’re dealing with a lot of people who have real generational wealth,” he insisted, with Baker-Harber adding that, to his victims, this was only “Monopoly money.”

Inigo also seems to believe that the most serious crimes were committed not by him but by Robert Newland, a former management consultant and colleague who became his business manager. Newland, too, was convicted and is serving a nearly two-year prison sentence. “I was tremendously successful,” Philbrick said, “and my mistake was listening to a guy who told me I could be that and more.” It’s true that Newland unlocked additional funds for Philbrick’s compulsive trading. “I would never have had an offshore company nor an art-backed loan had I not met Robert Newland,” he told Vanity Fair. But that’s a bit like blaming the guy who got you a hot Ferrari for the damage you caused in a speeding wreck. Inigo was the one with his foot on the accelerator.

Excessive nouveau riche spending habits seemed to be part of the compulsion. Whitfield details plenty of high-flying details about their professional exploits: a last-minute trip to New York where the two men stayed in a three-bedroom Plaza suite with a butler; meetings at the Connaught hotel bar over Dom Pérignon; and ornate dinners at Cipriani to choreograph an interaction that only took seconds. Flouting the consequences of such mindless profligacy and feeling socially superior seem to have been the goal, even if Inigo now justifies his bonfire of the luxuries as business expenses. “I always drank too much,” he told Vanity Fair, “but would always stagger away with a couple of deals done. … I spent money on clothes, but there’s no unshod art dealer, and private planes were a great setting for closing deals.” According to Whitfield’s book, he was also spending thousands of dollars a day up until nearly the end.

Somehow, Inigo can’t see that his own spending was what was getting him in so deep. “Until the very last moment,” he told Vanity Fair, “I’d been squaring off debts, paying out profits, and closing accounts.” In Philbrick’s narrative, even his 2019 disappearance in Vanuatu, a country with no extradition treaty with the U.S., has been transformed into a failure of others to find him. As he told the Times, he wasn’t hiding since he was using his own name and passport while traveling. “If I wanted to hide and was trying to not get extradited, we’d have gone to Russia, we’d have gone to Iran,” he said.


Inigo Fiction

Inigo is hardly the main character of Whitfield’s self-flagellating memoir, but the book serves as a character study of sorts. Time and again, Philbrick uses his friend, often simply to feel superior. Maddeningly, Whitfield seems in awe of Philbrick and, to his own detriment, in love with him. “This book isn’t journalism,” he writes, “for there can be no objectivity where love has lived.”

I’ve had my own interactions with Inigo that were as perplexing as they were illuminating. We recorded a podcast together in 2016 where he was open and engaging. He was performing, but it didn’t feel like a performance. Not long after, I ran into him and a mutual acquaintance in the lobby of an Evening auction. The mutual acquaintance tried to introduce us, but Inigo would not make eye contact.

To get another perspective on Inigo’s behavior, I talked with former associates and several collectors who were active market participants during the years when he was dealing. Two friends, who met as art collectors 30 years ago, started trading because the artists they loved were going up in value and they were happy to sell to buy more art. “In the beginning, I thought he was one of us,” said one of the pair. “He had knowledge, connoisseurship, and views of the market that we all shared. We felt we found the third musketeer. We talked about it that way. And he had access to stuff that was difficult to source.”

“Inigo was pretty tapped in,” the other said, describing how his perch in the middle of Mayfair allowed him to see the kind of art the two were interested in owning. “And then he was increasingly tapped in.” His partner continued: “But we honestly believed in these artists.” That may explain why they were willing to pay seven-figure prices for works they would have to own if they could not later be resold. But the pair made money. In the end, the works they bought were sold for higher prices, not huge payoffs but solid returns, enough to bring them back into other deals.

Originally, the partners were letting Philbrick control the works. They gave him money, and he returned them more. But there was something unusual about dealing with Philbrick, and one of the partners eventually did something about it. “We exchanged hundreds of emails, texts, and calls over the years, but I was only in his presence once,” one told me. “We went to look at some art together. I said, Oh my, he is young.” Eventually, the group got to one gallery where Philbrick wouldn’t go in. “My wife said, ‘That guy is shady—you’re not doing business with him.’”

Although the pair tried to impose some order on Inigo’s dealing—insisting on viewings, invoices, and contracts—the entropy was too great. “When people lie to me, I don’t buy art from them,” one of the collectors said. Once they grew suspicious of Inigo, they insisted on having control of the art works. Finally, they sold one of the works they owned with Inigo, advised him of the result, and paid themselves what Inigo owed them on the deal and other deals where Inigo had defaulted. Then they walked away. “Yes,” one of the partners admitted, “we came out ahead, but we were early in and early out with Inigo, and to this day don’t know if our deals were part of the shell game he played.”

To these partners, Inigo’s tragic flaw was his cockiness. “Overall, I really have nothing negative to say about Inigo,” one said after some consideration. “He was young and inexperienced. But he spoke the language and fit in very well. I think he had… undue optimism.” That last phrase was said with a wry twinkle of understatement.

When I asked Inigo via email whether he understood the anger some of his former co-investors feel toward him, even if they didn’t lose money, I got this response: “I absolutely understand and respect both anger and disappointment from my friends and clients.” He then went on to criticize Modern Collections, the Mayfair gallery, and made a veiled swipe at Jay Jopling, his former boss and investor.


Round Two

Other collectors, ones who lost money, were less charitable. Some found Inigo to be a chameleon. Whereas the first pair saw a connoisseur, these collectors saw someone who didn’t seem to actually care about the art. Inigo, they said, would present himself to people based on their needs and identities. Active flippers and market junkies got market gossip. To the party crowd, he bragged about his exploits in Ibiza. To the status conscious, he would talk about how he arrived on a private jet. If you had kids, he would tell you a story to portray himself as a caring father.

In the art trade, he had a reputation for high-handed behavior. One auction house executive blocked him from getting a third-party guarantee because Inigo was trying to go behind his back. The work ended up making a record for the artist. Inigo’s self-importance had caused him to miss out on the profits from the guarantee. His desire to seem powerful also caused him to occasionally act recklessly. One former friend recounted in the press how Inigo bid against a fairly prominent art advisor on a Cy Twombly work apparently just to force the advisor to pay more. Inigo, according to the friend, was showing off and avenging some perceived slight the advisor had allegedly made against the friend.

One collector doesn’t quite believe Inigo spent all of the $86 million he was charged with stealing. It’s true that some of the cash is, as Inigo says, still in art tied up with competing claims. The size of the losses will ultimately be determined by those cases. In theory, a disputed work could sell for a very high price and make the competing claimants whole. That’s unlikely in this market, especially since most of the artists Inigo traded in have seen better days. That doesn’t mean the art isn’t good or valuable, just that at today’s prices, the losses Inigo’s investors incurred are magnified.

The one thing no one disputes about Philbrick is that he was immersed in the details of the artists he traded. Inigo pored over exhibition photos, packing lists, and catalogs. He knew his artists in precise, database detail. One can see how that kind of skill could become useful again. To do that, Inigo would have to lie low, prove his worth and act behind the scenes. “I’ve had nice enquiries from a few collectors I used to work with, not fast-trading financial types but more mature collections,” he emailed me. “I’m in no giant hurry. There are collectors who have a long history of profitable trading with me and are nonconformist enough to buck public opinion and offer me a second chance when I’m ready.”

It’s also true that Inigo has been out of the game for a while. And Whitfield mentions a disturbing pattern where Inigo would repeatedly befriend powerful men in the art world like Norman Rosenthal, or a dealer at Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, only to later fall out with them. “It seemed like Inigo eventually outgrew everybody,” Whitfield writes, including, of course, himself.

Inigo isn’t the first dealer to get caught in a squeeze, do something stupid, and go to jail for it. In recent years, there was Los Angeles dealer Perry Rubenstein, who fucked around with Michael Ovitz and found out that embezzlement is a crime. After serving a short prison sentence, he was never able to re-establish himself as an art dealer. Ezra Chowaiki, cousin to the powerful Nahmad family, was sentenced to 18 months for fraud. He, too, tried to return to the art world with a splashy adventures-in-art-dealing memoir last year. There’s also Ann Freedman, who sold fakes while at Knoedler gallery. She settled a civil suit and still has her own gallery on the Upper East Side. That’s all just another way of saying, a comeback might be more likely in the Timothée Chalamet movie version than in real life.

~ Marion Maneker



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