He was considered an ‘up-and-comer’ in the international art market and previously worked at London’s White Cube gallery. On Thursday 11 June 2020, the rise of 33-year-old art dealer, Inigo Philbrick, came to a crashing halt when he was arrested by the FBI.
Philbrick is accused of swindling art collectors out of over US$20 million (£16 million) through wire fraud and identity theft from about 2016 to 2019. The complaint filed against him in the US District Court in Manhattan states that he plotted to “defraud multiple individuals and entities in the art market located in the New York metropolitan area and abroad” to finance his art business.
According to US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, among the many scams perpetrated by Philbrick, he sought to sell more than 100% ownership in a single piece of art. He is also believed to have made material misrepresentations and omissions to secure artworks and funding from art collectors, investors and lenders and to have used fraudulent contracts including at least one contract naming a seller with a stolen identity.
A graduate of London’s Goldsmiths college, Philbrick opened his first gallery in London in 2013. The venture was backed by White Cube’s founder, Jay Jopling. Philbrick came to be feted as an expert on contemporary artists such as Christopher Wool, Rudolf Stingel and Wade Guyton. In 2017, Philbrick’s London gallery reported a turnover of about US$130 million (£103 million) and the following year he opened a branch in Miami.
When demand for his artists cooled and the market began to fall in the late 2010s, Philbrick allegedly turned to devising elaborate money-making schemes. His alleged swindling first came to light in October 2019 when German firm, Fine Art Partners, filed a lawsuit against him in a Florida court. Philbrick was accused of withholding millions of dollars’ worth of art by Yayoi Kusama, Donald Judd, Wool and Guyton.
Fine Art Partners also complained Philbrick failed to pay the US$9million (£7 million) he guaranteed a Stingel painting would sell for at a Christie’s auction. Federal prosecutors accuse Philbrick of selling multiple ownership interests in the Stingel prior to the auction.
Eventually, it is said that Philbrick found himself so entangled in the web of lies he had spun that he fled the US. He was picked up and detained by US law enforcement agents on the island of Vanuatu where he is believed to have been living on the run from the law since October 2019. Following his arrest, he was transported to Guam where was expected to appear before a US federal court on Monday 15 June.
New York-based writer and dealer, Kenny Schachter, who claims to have lost almost US$2 million (£1.6million) through his dealings with Philbrick lamented the young art dealer’s fall from grace. “That such a bright and talented person would be blinded by greed and hubris and implode so spectacularly is a shame”, Schachter said.
Wire fraud carries a maximum prison term of 20 years in the US and identity theft a mandatory sentence of 2 years’ imprisonment.