Woog’s World / An environment of art and money
Growing up in Westport, art is part of the environment.
From elementary school classes to works in the permanent collection hanging in the halls; from enrichment opportunities like the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center and Artists Collective of Westport; to just living near so many men and women who make their living painting, drawing and sculpting, youngsters are enveloped and influenced by the arts in ways they don’t even realize.
The world of finance is part of our environment too.
Boys and girls grow up here surrounded by Wall Street. Their parents and friends’ parents work there (literally or figuratively). Money — how to earn it, enhance it, spend it, invest it and make more of it — is a constant topic of conversation. Even when it’s not explicitly talked about, it’s an unspoken part of Westport’s DNA.
Alexandra Bregman grew up here. At Kings Highway Elementary, Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools, and Staples High School, she was aware — consciously and unconsciously — of art and money.
At Staples she played the flute, and worked on the literary magazine Soundings. But Inklings, the school newspaper, was her most important, and formative, activity.
After graduating in 2006, Bregman headed to Smith College. Along with her English courses, she studied art history and French. She spent a semester abroad in France.
Smith’s career services office suggested she go into journalism. But her art history classes and study in France made art galleries seem like an alluring choice.
Through a friend at Staples, she got an internship at Gagosian Gallery in New York in her final spring of college. But the job market was tricky in 2010.
Bregman spent the next few years working for an artist in India, then traveled back to France. She wrote about art for the Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, The Art Newspaper and the Asian Art Newspaper, among others, and ghostwrote for a CEO. After five years of freelancing, she earned a master’s degree from the Columbia School of Journalism.
Her advisor was James B. Stewart. A lawyer, journalist and author, he’s won awards for his books and stories on the financial shenanigans of people like Martha Stewart (no relation), Bernie Madoff and, most notably, “Den of Thieves,” about Wall Street arbitrager Ivan Boesky and junk bond king Michael Milken.
Stewart helped Bregman come up with an idea for her 8,000-word thesis.
He’d been following an interesting story. A year or so earlier, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” was purchased at auction for $450 million. The seller, Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, was one of the wealthiest art collectors in the world. The deal was made through Rybolovlev’s Swiss art dealer, Yves Bouvier.
It became known as “The Bouvier Affair,” and Bregman’s master’s degree capstone project became the basis of a just-published book.
“The Bouvier Affair: A True Story” chronicles Rybolovlev’s rise from ordinary beginnings in Moscow to his emergence as a billionaire with homes in Geneva, Monaco, Singapore and Cyprus. In addition to his almost-priceless da Vinci, the oligarch bought 36 other masterpieces, all with the “mischievously daring” Bouvier.
Through it all, the book’s press materials say, “the line between art and life began to blur, and surprisingly, the political intrigue of a high-powered world with ties to Donald Trump has everything to do with art and culture.”
Amazon says, “The beauty of art and the illustrious histories of its collectors are at once sensationalized and shrouded in secrecy. By uncovering the connections rarely linked with accounts by the people who lived it, this book provides a much-needed window into the Bouvier Affair, the high stakes art market at large, and some of the world’s most incredible paintings.”
Bregman describes her book as covering “art and prestige. It’s about the human nature of billionaire art collectors. It’s about art and about tax havens.”
Art and money. Bregman learned about both as a child and teenager in Westport.
She saw art of all kinds, on the walls of her schools. She admired her Staples High art teacher, Camille Eskell, and volunteered for a time at the Westport Art Center.
At the same time, money — talk of it, evidence of it, demonstrations of its power — was everywhere in town. Coming of age in the boom times of the early 2000s, she saw wealth as it was acquired and displayed.
“I grew up around people tied to both of those things,” Bregman says. “If I had grown up elsewhere, I might not have been so tied in to either of them.”
Bregman will discuss “The Bouvier Affair” as part of the Westport Library’s “Books and Bites” series on Aug. 13 at 7 p.m.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.