Cancelled: Robilant + Voena A Toxic Workplace Exposed

Robilant + Voena

Marco Voena, a prominent Old Masters art dealer, once declared in an interview with Alain Elkann—Italian novelist, journalist, and ex-husband of Fiat heiress Margherita Agnelli—that his Italian heritage and humanist respect for other cultures made him ideally suited to exploit the booming art markets in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. However, these lofty proclamations now starkly contrast with serious allegations surfacing from within his high-end art empire, casting a dark shadow over his once-sterling reputation.

In a bombshell $3 million-plus lawsuit filed by Virginia Brilliant, a highly respected curator, Voena is accused of creating a workplace teeming with bigotry, sexism, and abuse. The Daily Beast obtained Brilliant’s complaint and alleged that Voena and his business partner, Edmondo di Robilant, fostered a “toxic” environment, with Voena purportedly labelling Jews and Black people as “disgusting,” using homophobic slurs and subjecting Brilliant to sexual harassment.

Robilant, according to the suit, was no better, often badmouthing Jews and allegedly calling Brilliant a “stupid fucking cunt.” He is said to have pressured her to trade sex for consignments while his wife fat-shamed her ahead of major art fairs. The cruelty escalated when Brilliant was diagnosed with breast cancer; Voena and Robilant promised to cover her treatment costs, only to renege on their pledge.

The lawsuit chronicles the sordid details of Brilliant’s tenure at Robilant+Voena, the gallery she joined in 2019. With locations in London, Milan, Paris, St. Moritz, and New York, the gallery is known for its Old Master paintings and a mixture of US and Italian Modern and Contemporary art. It has sold masterpieces to institutions like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum. Yet behind its polished facade, Brilliant describes a world rife with misogyny, antisemitism, racism, and homophobia.

Brilliant, who holds a PhD from London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, had previously held positions at the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco and The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Her impressive CV and curatorial acumen were no defence against the alleged relentless harassment she faced. Voena allegedly boasted to her about his disdain for Black people and bombarded her with images of his mistress in provocative lingerie. Robilant allegedly slurred Jewish colleagues and inquired about Brilliant’s sexual history.

The lawsuit further accuses Robilant’s wife of exacerbating the abuse by suggesting a champagne and Xanax diet for weight loss and sending Brilliant unprescribed drugs during her cancer treatment, including 1,200 Xanax tablets and generic Ozempic sourced from the Balkans.

The lawsuit isn’t limited to allegations of a toxic culture. Brilliant claims financial exploitation, stating she was promised a $50,000 base salary and significant commissions. Yet, she was allegedly paid a fraction of what a less qualified male colleague earned and was denied promised commissions and medical expense coverage.

Often viewed as a bastion of refinement, the broader art community faces a reckoning with these explosive revelations. The allegations against Robilant and Voena paint a picture of an industry marred by unchecked discrimination and abuse, challenging the perception of a healthy workplace.

Robilant and Voena and their attorneys have yet to respond to the allegations formally. The suit demands over $3 million in damages, including unpaid commissions, compensation for the hostile work environment, and medical expenses. As the tight community of art industry professionals watches, the case reminds us of the dark behind-the-scenes practices of some art dealers.

The fallout from this lawsuit could reshape the way we perceive high-end art dealing, casting a long-overdue spotlight on the need for accountability and ethical conduct in an industry that prides itself on cultural and intellectual sophistication.

If this case proves true, it will be yet another high-profile example of appalling behaviour within the art world. Leading London Art dealer Anthony d’Offay, who was accused of racism and sexual harassment in 2019, not only had his name stripped from the Tate’s Artist Rooms programme, a display that he funded. He is no longer welcome into the tight clique of Artists, Galleries and Museum glitterartery he helped create. There is no room for this type of boy’s club behaviour in our privileged industry.

Photo: Courtesy Alain Elkann Online

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