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Dean Bagley

Yves Bouvier art battle plays out in online and social media arena

Tuesday 31 May 2016

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By now, most people with an interest in the world of art have heard of Yves Bouvier.
The art transporter and pioneer of Freeport storage facilities has become a high profile figure ever since he was arrested back in February 2015. He faces ongoing cases in France and Monaco, and a trial in Singapore. Bloomberg News has also reported that the US government might be taking an interest in his activities.
Bouvier allegedly added unjustified markups to art sales made to his clients. However, he maintains strongly that he did nothing wrong, was free to buy and then sell to collectors at his own prices, and is therefore the victim of a big misunderstanding.
The case involves a number of alleged victims, including Pablo Picasso’s step-daughter Catherine Hutin-Blay, and also the Monaco-based businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev.
Although there are a number of different victims, the case has been viewed by some observers as a battle between Rybolovlev and Bouvier.
At one level, that battle is of course a legal one that is unfolding across multiple jurisdictions.
However, “the Bouvier Affair” is also one in which PR has played an unprecedented role.
There has been “above the line” conventional PR that has seen many of the world’s leading media take an interest in the case and cover it extensively.
It is to be expected that the French and Swiss media might write about the Affair a great deal – and they have. But the sheer volume of English language coverage in publications like the Daily Telegraph (which first broke the news); The New York Post, Times and Daily News, Town and Country, and the New Yorker magazine, has also been staggering.
But another arena in which that PR war is being fought has received somewhat less attention: online and social media.
For instance, Bouvier’s team has zealously curated his online profile, especially on Wikipedia and other similar platforms. As soon as any unhelpful material has been added to the profile, they have swiftly deleted it, and they have been sure to present a rounded picture of their client’s background and achievements.
What’s more, they seemingly support that effort by using a network of approved Wikipedia editors. Those with other agendas, of course, have also certainly been working hard to influence this content – with varying degrees of success.
Not surprisingly, Bouvier’s Wikipedia page has become so contentious that editors have now put it on watch for “neutrality issues”.
A variety of online media and blogs have also been used by different participants in the saga to place material that helps their cause.
One of these is a Facebook page dedicated to the “The Bouvier Affair”. The page has gained an influential following of key journalists covering the story, as well as many people across the art world. It does not seem intended to be completely flattering to Bouvier and clearly there are many in the art market that might have an axe to grind against the Geneva native.
But if its objective is to push home the message of Bouvier as less than honest, it generally seeks to achieve that goal in a way that presents the facts and lets the reader make up their mind.
For now, the case continues and the media awaits fresh developments. Nobody knows how this saga will end but one thing is for sure: it will continue to play out across the full spectrum of media, new and old, around the world.