Robert Frank has a piece in the New York Times that does a very good job of sorting out most of the major issues stemming from the Rybolovlev-Bouvier conflict that has precipitated so much gossip in the art world. From the story, it’s clear that Frank’s access begins with Sandy Heller, the taste-making art advisor to Steven Cohen whom many have assumed was indiscreet in his conversations with Rybolovlev.
Not so, Frank makes clear, when he tells the story of the crucial New Year’s Day conversation between Heller and Rybolovlev that revealed the price Cohen received for Modigliani’s “Nu Couché au Coussin Bleu.” [Emphasis added.]
Mr. Rybolovlev asked about the sale price, and the next day, after checking with Mr. Cohen, Mr. Heller told him: $93 million.
Frank goes on to detail much that is at issue in the case, on both sides. Bouvier accuses Rybolovlev of failure to pay for a very valuable Rothko. Rybolovlev claims Bouvier was taking advantage of him and gouging on prices. Bouvier says he was lured to his arrest under the pretext of a negotiation over the Rothko payments.
Overall, there are only two issues that Frank leaves unclear. Bouvier claims his invoices were for the works themselves and second 2% invoice for expenses related to the transactions. In other words, Bouvier says he was not acting as an art advisor but a principal in the sales.
Frank also suggests that Bouvier’s dealing is based upon his position as the owner of NLC, the freeport operator [emphasis added]:
Mr. Bouvier’s company, Natural Le Coultre, is a major tenant of the freeport in Geneva and the majority owner of freeports in Luxembourg and Singapore. Prized by wealthy collectors for their secrecy and tax benefits, freeports have proliferated in recent years. Dealers estimate they hold hundreds of billions of dollars in valuables.
With his knowledge of the ownership and location of major works of art, Mr. Bouvier also became a dealer. Over the last decade, Mr. Rybolovlev and two Cypriot trusts owned by Mr. Rybolovlev’s family bought 40 works from Mr. Bouvier. The works include pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rothko, Klimt and Magritte with a total value of $2 billion, according to executives with the Rybolovlev family trusts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Bouvier categorically denies this.
A Multimillion-Dollar Markup on a Modigliani (NYTimes.com)