The Federal Bureau of Investigation has detained Inigo Philbrick, a young art dealer who operated a scandal that has a range of disputes over works worth millions of dollars. The FBI said it had arrested Philbrick, Vanuatu, a Pacific island country, and that he was then transported to Guam. He is expected to appear before a Manhattan federal court on Monday, June 15.
“As alleged, Inigo Philbrick was a serial swindler who misled art collectors, investors, and lenders out of more than $20 million,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. “You can’t sell more than 100 percent ownership in a single piece of art, which Philbrick allegedly did, among other scams. When his schemes began to unravel, Philbrick allegedly fled the country. Now he is in U.S. custody and facing justice.”
The scandal surrounding Philbrick first came to light in October 2019, after the German firm Fine Art Partners filed suit against him in a Florida court, alleging that the dealer was withholding millions of dollars’ worth of art by Donald Judd, Yayoi Kusama, Christopher Wool, and Wade Guyton. At the center of the suit was a Kusama “Infinity Mirror Room” installation that FAP claimed Philbrick had “refused” to return.
The filing of that lawsuit unfurled a series of related legal claims. In November, Guzzini Properties Ltd., a company that collects art, filed suit against Philbrick in New York. The company alleged that it had financed Philbrick’s purchase of a Rudolf Stingel painting and that Philbrick later sold it without their knolwedge, and Guzzini claimed it should have ownership over the canvas. Meanwhile, that same month, a British court froze Philbrick’s assets.
Philbrick had previously operated a gallery with spaces in London and New York. The 33-year-old dealer had been considered an up-and-comer in the market sphere, and was mentored by notable gallerists, including Jay Jopling, the founder of London-based White Cube gallery, where Philbrick formerly worked.
In a 2019 ARTnews profile of Philbrick, Judd Grossman, a lawyer for several parties named in lawsuits related to the dealer, called Philbrick’s business “a con,” adding, “There were actual transactions taking place, and there were real assets being acquired and sold, but it was all being done against a web of lies.”
Amid the legal drama, Philbrick disappeared, causing many in the art world to speculate about his whereabouts. According to the FBI press release, flight records suggest that Philbrick left the United States ahead of the reports on the lawsuits in October and November and had been in Vanuatu since late October. He was then taken to Guam and is being taken to New York.
“Hats off to the FBI NY Joint Major Theft Task Force/Art Crime Team who worked diligently to track down Mr. Philbrick and bring him back to the U.S., where, if convicted, he might have to trade in his jet-set life for a drab federal prison cell,” FBI assistant director William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a statement.