Months after the wunderkind art dealer Inigo Philbrick vanished—leaving in his wake a trail of lawsuits, international asset seizures, and tens of millions of dollars and artworks missing—his disgruntled clients aren’t the only ones looking for him. The Department of Justice is also investigating the dealer, according to four sources who did business with Philbrick or are involved in legal proceedings against him.
A company that provided art support services for Philbrick over the past several years confirmed to Artnet News that it received a subpoena from the Department of Justice this past December, asking the company to supply all of its records related to business transactions with him.
Asked whether an investigation is active, a spokesman for the Department of Justice told Artnet News: “We’re not able to comment on your inquiry.”
Trouble with the feds will add to an already hefty cluster of lawsuits against the dealer, who was once a protégé of White Cube founder Jay Jopling. Those who confirmed the DOJ investigation to Artnet News added that more civil lawsuits against Philbrick are in the pipeline as well.
Since last fall, the young dealer has been targeted by former clients who claim he sold the same works to multiple people and defaulted on loans he secured using art he didn’t own as collateral. Now, disgruntled former business associates are trying to seize his personal assets, which filings suggest could amount to as much as $70 million, as well as $150 million from his business.
Philbrick’s dealings have offered insight into the shadowy world of art-flipping and profiteering, where clients will buy portions of an artwork to hold and sell at auction for a profit. But a criminal investigation would likely expose even more of the inner workings of this corner of the art world.
Currently, a number of artworks at the center of his international tug of war are frozen in place. A multimillion-dollar Rudolf Stingel painting that Philbrick sold to more than one buyer and also borrowed heavily against for cash hit the auction block at Christie’s in May 2019, shortly before the scandal broke. It is currently being held by the auction house at the instruction of a judge. Although Christie’s is not party to any of the litigation and did not respond to a request for comment about whether it had been subpoenaed, it does hold valuable evidence—in addition to the painting itself, it has a copy of a fake eight-page seller’s agreement that bears Christie’s Rockefeller Center address at the top, which Philbrick allegedly supplied to a client as evidence that he had secured a guarantee for the work and had the right to sell it.
Philbrick’s whereabouts remain unknown. He has been placed at such exotic and far-flung locations as the Bahamas, Tokyo, Australia, and various islands in the South Pacific. His girlfriend at the time of his disappearance, Victoria Baker Harber, is an English socialite best known for her role on the popular British reality show “Made in Chelsea.” She moved to Miami when Philbrick opened his gallery and launched her own boutique, called the Space.
In an Instagram message, Baker Harber told us in February that she “was running the store separate from” Philbrick and declined to comment on his legal troubles. “Wish I could be of more help,” she wrote, “but am in the dark!” One source who did not want to be identified told Artnet News that the two are still in contact, however, sometimes speaking to one another on “burner” phones.