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Slurs, Sexism, and Bootleg Ozempic: Bigwig Art Duo Hit With Bombshell Suit

When they weren’t using slurs about Jewish people or the LGBT community, they were dropping the c-word or sharing sex stories, curator Virginia Brilliant claims.

Justin Rohrlich

Updated Jun. 06, 2024 4:41PM EDT Published Jun. 05, 2024 8:07PM EDT 


A photo illustration of a picture frame with Edmondo di Robilant and Marco Voena inside of it.

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

When renowned Old Masters art dealer Marco Voena was interviewed in 2022 by Alain Elkann, the Italian novelist, journalist, and ex-husband of Fiat heiress Margherita Agnelli, he spoke of the way newly created wealth in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa had expanded the ultra-high-end art market, and claimed he was ideally situated to take advantage of it.

“I am Italian, and a humanist, and I respect other cultures,” Voena said.

Voena is, incontestably, Italian. But, according to a $3 million-plus lawsuit quietly filed last month by esteemed curator Virginia Brilliant and obtained by The Daily Beast, Voena called Jews and Black people “disgusting,” used offensive slurs when referring to members of the LGBTQ community, and subjected Brilliant to a sexually “toxic” working environment.

And when Voena’s business partner Edmondo di Robilant wasn’t himself badmouthing Jews, or calling Brilliant, 44, a “stupid fucking cunt,” the lawsuit claims he was pressing her to trade sex for consignments while his wife fat-shamed her in advance of major art fairs.

Perhaps most troublingly, Brilliant’s suit alleges that when she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, Voena and Robilant told her they’d pay for her treatment—then failed to make good on the promise.

Robilant and Voena were both established, highly respected dealers in their own right before joining forces in 2004 to launch Robilant+Voena, and today have galleries in London, Milan, Paris, St. Moritz, and New York. They specialize in the bluest of blue-chip Old Master paintings, and have sold multimillion-dollar works to, among other august institutions, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Frick Collection, London’s National Gallery of Art, The National Gallery of Stockholm, and Gallerie dell’Accademia Venice.

Brilliant, a St. Louis, Missouri native with a PhD from London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, has served as head of the European paintings department at the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco and curator of collections at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, with curatorial positions at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum before that.

Robilant was served papers for Brilliant’s lawsuit on May 13, at the TEFAF Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan, according to court filings. Voena was “not in the building” at the time, the filings say, but Robilant “was willing to accept” service on his behalf.

The pair, along with their attorneys, Maureen Stampp, Amanda Williams, and Dov Kesselman, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Beast.

“The complaint is self-explanatory and speaks for itself,” Brilliant’s attorney Mitchell Cantor told The Daily Beast. “All of the allegations are in it.”

Robilant and Voena brought Brilliant on in December 2019 as a gallery consultant, the lawsuit states. It says she was to receive a base salary of $50,000, plus a commission of 10 percent of the profit on the sale of any artwork she had sourced, regardless of who sold it, and 20 percent forf works she had both sourced and sold, which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Brilliant was, according to the lawsuit, expected to perform research on works of art, write essays, translate documents into English, make videos, scour auctions, and manage the company’s New York gallery.

After Brilliant was hired, she quickly realized she had made a grave error in taking the job, the lawsuit suggests. Robilant and Voena together “created a toxic workplace environment by repeatedly, regularly and constantly making misogynistic, antisemitic, racist and homophobic comments in the presence of and directed towards Plaintiff,” it contends.

“Voena stated to Plaintiff that ‘I don’t like Black people. They are disgusting,’” Brilliant’s suit alleges. “Voena ranted to Plaintiff that Robilant’s uncle, Robilant’s son Michele, and Robilant himself were ‘f*gs’ and ‘f**gots.’ Voena showed Plaintiff multiple photographs of one of Voena’s mistresses clad only in provocative lingerie.”

A 2015 photo of Marco Voena at a private dinner and preview, holding a cocktail.

Marco Voena at a 2015 private dinner and preview at Palazzo Visconti in Milan, Italy.

Jacopo Raule/Getty Images for Phillips

The lawsuit claims Robilant was equally bigoted, referring to a colleague as “‘that little fucking Jew,’ and ‘that fucking Jew,’” and asked Brilliant, “‘Why are Jews so rich and so cheap about paying for anything?’” According to the suit, the pair “regularly and routinely used phrases such as… ‘disgusting Jews,’ ‘you know [Redacted]’s wife is a Jew, so all those pretty blond children are just more fucking Jews,’ [and] ‘they’re just greedy fucking Jews pretending to be as English as the Queen.’”

Beyond the religious and ethnic slurs being tossed around with abandon, Robilant and Voena “repeatedly and continually harassed [Brilliant] on the basis of her gender and physical appearance,” the lawsuit continues, saying the offensive incidents “occurred constantly.” In one instance, Robilant allegedly “encouraged [Brilliant] to have sexual relations with a colleague to secure a consignment.” He also pressed her to reveal how many men she had slept with, and “regaled [Brilliant] with stories of how he had lost his virginity,” according to the suit.

Robilant’s wife, according to the lawsuit, also got in on the act. It says she recommended that Brilliant, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2024,

“loose [sic] weight by following a diet of champagne and Xanax,” then mailed her “over 1,200 illegal unprescribed Xanax tablets while Plaintiff was undergoing radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.” The suit says Maya di Robilant also sent Brilliant “illegal unprescribed… generic Ozempic” which she purchased in the Balkans, so she “could loose [sic] 25 pounds before Maastricht,” the annual event in the Netherlands considered to be among the world’s premier art fairs.

The sexism ran deep at Robilant+Voena, according to Brilliant’s suit. When a particular sale she was working on fell through, Robilant “berated, castigated and screamed” at her, insisting she explain “how [and] what you fucked up,” the suit alleges. However, it says, when a male employee failed to complete a deal, Robilant and Voena “were typically sympathetic,” and said, “Don’t worry about it, the next one will work out.”

A photo of Edmondo di Robilant, artist Anh Duong, and Marco Voena at a 2014 reception in London.

Edmondo di Robilant (left), artist Anh Duong (center) and Marco Voena (right) at a 2014 reception in London.

Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Robilant+Voena Gallery

At one point, Robilant and Voena hired a recent college graduate who had never worked as a curator at a world-class museum, had never been employed by a major gallery, and had “no background in Old Master paintings… [or] of Postwar Italian art, R+V’s other area of specialization,” the lawsuit states.

The male employee nevertheless earned more than double what Brilliant did, plus benefits, the suit says.

And since Brilliant was not provided health insurance by Robilant and Voena, the two told her they would pay her medical bills following her cancer diagnosis, according to the lawsuit.

“Notwithstanding the foregoing, Defendants have refused to pay Plaintiff’s medical bills or reimburse her for them,” the suit states. “On information and belief Defendant’s medical bills in connection with her treatment for breast cancer will exceed $200,000.”

Further, Brilliant says she was stiffed out of a $57,500 commission for selling a painting by the Italian master Orsola Caccia.

Brilliant is suing Robilant+Voena, along with Robilant and Voena personally, on seven individual causes of action, including violations of the New York City and New York State Human Rights Laws. She is demanding her $57,500 commission, the $200,000 she was promised for her medical bills, at least $1 million on her claims of a hostile workplace, no less than $1 million for sexual harassment and discrimination, and back pay of $580,000, plus attorneys’ fees and costs.

Robilant and Voena have until July 3 to file a formal response in court to Brilliant’s allegations.


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