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France charges art dealer over stolen Picassos

An art dealer was charged in France on Monday with handling stolen goods in a case relating to the theft of Picasso artworks. Russian billionaire owner of Monaco football club Dmitri Rybolovlev bought two of the works for €27 million.

France charges art dealer over stolen Picassos
Did Russian billionaire Dmitriy Rybolovlev, left, pay for stolen paintings? Photo: AFP

Swiss Art dealer Yves Bouvier was charged on Monday by a Paris court, although he categorically denies committing any offence.

The 52-year-old, under investigation for repeated theft, must hand over €27 million ($31 million) in caution money — the sum said to have been paid by Russian billionaire Dmitri Rybolovlev for two Picasso masterpieces, including “Woman with Fan”, and 58 drawings.

The investigation was opened after a complaint in March by Catherine Hutin-Blay, the iconic painter's step-daughter.

She claimed, after a Brazilian restoration expert raised the alarm, that several artworks that belonged to her had been stolen.

Two years earlier, the expert had been commissioned to restore and prepare artworks by Picasso for use as murals using a technique known as marouflage.

The artworks he was told to restore were part of a collection owned by 68-year-old Hutin-Blay, who believed they were in storage in Gennevilliers near Paris since 2008.

But once they were restored, the paintings were taken to a Swiss company owned by Bouvier to be put on show and sold to Rybolovlev — the majority owner and president of French football club AS Monaco.

In a statement on Monday Bouvier denied any wrongdoing, and said he handed over to the court proof that the artworks he sold to Rybolovlev had been “bought from a trust presented as being that of Catherine Hutin-Blay”.

The name of the art dealer whom Bouvier claims sold him the Picasso paintings and drawings “has been transmitted to the judge Rich-Flament, but won't be publicly released by Yves Bouvier”, the statement said.

Hutin-Blay challenged Bouvier's defence, claiming in a statement she “never consented or received payment for the sales of 'Woman's Head', 'Woman with a Fan' or the 58 drawings”.

She added that she does not know Bouvier. 

Bouvier earlier this year had millions of euros worth of assets frozen after he was sued for fraud by none other than the Russian tycoon Rybolovlev.

Singapore's highest court unfroze Bouvier's assets in August, with the dealer rejecting allegations he had inflated the price of 38 artworks.

Bouvier operates vaults in Singapore and Luxembourg where wealthy clients can store their art and other valuables.

The first version of this story wrongly stated that Mr Bouvier had been charged with stealing the paintings. AFP has since corrected this error.

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ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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