I have been mildly obsessed with freeports—the secretive, treasure-crammed warehouses where Picassos are stashed alongside stacked bars of gold, tax-free—since David Segal’s 2012 New York Times article on the Geneva Freeport. Freeports, Segal explained, “remain the closest thing to the Cayman Islands that the art world has to offer.”
Sam Knight takes coverage of international freeport intrigue to the next level in this week’s New Yorker, with “The Bouvier Affair.” His story delves into the machinations of the Geneva Freeport and describes how one Swiss shipper saw the potential of the freeport as an adjunct to the art market, ultimately transforming himself into an under-the-radar dealer and bilking a Russian oligarch out of a billion dollars. It would not be an overstatement to call the story completely bananas. It is also a magnificently fun read—a delicious rollercoaster of a narrative, undergirded by a foundation of detailed, careful reporting. Of particular note are Knight’s nuanced insights into the bonkers world of art, like this description of the relationship between dealer and collector:
The relationship between art dealer and collector is particular and charged. The dealer is mentor and salesman. He informs his client’s desires while subjecting himself to them at the same time. The collector has money, but he is also vulnerable. Relationships start, prosper, and fail for any number of reasons. It is not always obvious where power lies. Over time, each one can convince himself that he has created the other.