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The Dark Side of Art Collecting

Published on: Apr 30 2015’s been running a series of articles on different aspects of the art collecting market. The latest installment shows the dangers of art collecting, especially for those who engage in private market transactions and rely on brokers and agents for their information. In this installment, a Russian billionaire decides that his dealer was overstating the value of art works and also was a money launderer. It’s interesting reading.

Bouvier’s relationship with Rybolovlev might have continued but for a chance encounter on the Caribbean island of St. Barts in the run-up to New Year’s Eve last year. Rybolovlev was lunching with friends at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant at the Eden Rock hotel. As they chatted overlooking the turquoise waters of St. Jean Bay, a mutual friend introduced Rybolovlev to Sandy Heller, art adviser to hedge fund billionaire and noted collector Steven A. Cohen.

They began talking about the art market, according to people familiar with the conversation. The discussion moved on to Amedeo Modigliani’s Reclining Nude With Blue Cushion, which Cohen had sold in 2012 to a mystery buyer. What unfolded next was a surprise to both men. With Cohen’s blessing, Heller disclosed that he’d received $93.5 million for the Modigliani.

Rybolovlev was shocked, the people say. He’d paid $118 million for the painting—more than $24 million above what Cohen got—in a deal arranged by Bouvier, whom he considered a trusted adviser. Now, Rybolovlev told Heller, he was worried Bouvier might have been milking him on other paintings over the years. Could Heller have a look at other deals? Heller did and concurred, saying the prices Rybolovlev had paid for some works appeared wide of the mark. Less than two weeks after meeting Heller, Rybolovlev sprang into action and filed a fraud complaint against Bouvier in Monaco, where the two had met at least five times to hash out deals.



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