An eccentric art-world publisher known as the Red Queen is renting out her Hamptons estate for $1 million a month this summer, as former employees and foreign freelancers battle her for unpaid wages.
Louise Blouin, the Montreal-born jetsetter behind Artinfo.com and Modern Painters, put up her Southampton manse for rent after her name appeared in the Panama Papers—a trove of documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm revealing how the world’s elite allegedly hide assets in offshore companies.
Blouin took the oceanfront property, once listed at $145 million, off the market this month following the Panama revelation, according to the New York Post. Now her four-acre property, which includes two houses, two pools, and a tennis court, is available for a sky-high sum for the month of August, the Post reported.
When contacted by the Toronto Star about the Panama Papers mention, Blouin said her financial representatives told her to register companies abroad years ago and insisted nothing was illegal. The media maven, who lives in Switzerland, told the Star the accounts weren’t set up to dodge taxes.
Blouin appeared to accidentally call The Daily Beast after a reporter left her a message. She identified herself as Louise Blouin, asked for someone else and quickly hung up after realizing she phoned a Daily Beast scribe. “I have nothing to say to you. Sorry, I have the wrong number,” she said in a Québécois accent last week.
The Daily Beast reached an attorney for Blouin, but he hadn’t provided any comment as of Monday night.
While she’s kept quiet on her private life, Blouin’s name has littered New York City’s tabloids for years. Her sartorial moniker, the Red Queen, is as much for her fondness for the color as for her strict rule over her art publishing kingdom, employees say.
Former staffers told The Daily Beast they weren’t surprised to see Blouin’s name in the headlines again over alleged money woes.
“It’s fair to say the company’s finances were a topic of regular gossip,” one worker, who requested anonymity, said of the socialite’s still-active company, Louise Blouin Media. The insider described Blouin as “a wealthy person who had great ambitions and knew a lot of powerful and influential people and wanted to play in the cosmopolitan set.”
The fiftysomething art collector built her fortune from Trader Media, a classified ad publishing company she launched with her then-husband, John MacBain, in 1987. When the MacBains divorced in 2000, Louise sold her 22 percent share of the business to her husband for $200 million, Forbes reported.
Blouin’s rise to art world darling was often captured in the press. She was rumored to date Prince Andrew and entertained guests including Bianca Jagger, according to one Forbes profile. Former President Bill Clinton was the first award recipient of her arts foundation, whose black-tie dinners attracted dignitaries and scholars.
A 2007 New York magazine profile described Blouin’s entrance in high society and the trappings of her $20 million West Village penthouse, where a butler served her cappuccino on bone china and fine white linen. Even then, Blouin was faced with questions about her business’s alleged cash-flow problems.
Employees of the small art publications she acquired, including Modern Painters, accused her of running them into the ground, New York reported.
“We are probably the one that invests the most in content in the world of art,” Blouin told New York at the time in response to her critics. “I have a real interest in writers. There’s a lot of content. And content is king.”
She later added, “Usually, people that criticize are people that don’t do anything. Ones that try are the courageous people. The world is so scary now, don’t you feel that? Don’t you feel we all have a responsibility to help people who are fixing the world?”
But as Blouin was living large, her writers say they were struggling to get paid.
In 2010, freelance writers at Artinfo formed a group accusing Blouin of bilking them: WAAANKAA, or Writers Angry at Artinfo Not Kidding Around Anymore.
“I think it is absolutely disgraceful that they were assigning stories even when they knew they were not paying for past stories,” one of the group’s founders, Caroline Ryder, told the Post. (The Daily Beast could not reach Ryder, who told the Post in 2010 that she was owed $700, to see if she ever was paid.)
Back then, the New York Observer reported that Blouin company bills were piling up. A lack of payments resulted in the management company of Blouin’s offices locking out employees. The web-hosting firm shut down the company website, and that lights and Internet were shut off, too, the Observer reported.
In response to the story, Artinfo published an email from LBM president Ben Hartley to the Observer reporter under the headline, “New York Observer’s Desperate LBM Smear Misfires And Is Full of Errors.”
While he didn’t appear to deny allegations of lights being turned off and employees getting locked out, Hartley wrote, “The issue with the building ownership was settled in our favor.”
In 2013, Blouin’s emails announcing the termination of most international freelancers made it into the Observer. The missive had no punctuation and was difficult to decipher, likely due to Blouin’s dyslexia, which she has publicly spoken about.
“This is the product strategy that we have never said and being silent is good or not I can not worry about this as I like when product speaks for itself and I have been focusing on the brands,” one part of the email read.
One year later, the blond-tressed media mogul was accused of stiffing her scribes in India. Blouin allegedly courted foreign freelancers, accepted their work, then stalled on payments before firing them, the Post reported. Then Blouin would repeat her alleged tactics with a new cavalcade of writers, activists claimed.
The jilted writers, who formed the group “Victims of Louise Blouin in India” to recoup their promised payments, called Blouin “an international fraud,” the Post reported.
Blouin allegedly owed at least 68 writers and vendors across India and the globe payments ranging from $300 to $200,000, one activist told the Post at the time.
In an email to more than 100 Blouin workers, the group accused Blouin of “extracting volumes of work from poor Indian professionals every 30/40 days and fir[ing] them with an excuse of non-performance, at least 30+ recorded cases.”
Court records show at least 10 lawsuits were filed in New York state against Louise Blouin Media since 2010 over unpaid wages and commissions to employees and contractors. One of those cases, filed by Catherine Shanley and Wendy Buckley, is still active.
Of the nine other cases, the parties of six suits moved to settle. The outcome of the settlements—and whether payments were made—is unclear.
Shanley was employed as LBM’s director of sales from June 2003 and as publisher of Art + Auction from November 2009. She was fired in March 2014, a civil complaint states. She claims she is owed $137,431 in commissions.
Meanwhile, Buckley was a sales consultant beginning in May 2006, associate publisher of Art + Auction, and publisher of Artinfo’s Asia edition. She got a pink slip in January 2014, court papers allege. Buckley claims she is owed $90,025 in commissions.
According to the complaint, Blouin bashed the women to LBM staff on multiple occasions, calling them “greedy” and “evil” and claiming they “stole” money, clients and commissions due to others.
The women’s attorney declined to comment on the case.
Judy Holm, a publicist who planned Blouin Media’s “Power 100” party at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2013, told the Observer that Blouin voided her yearlong contract with Holm’s firm after five months. Holm told The Daily Beast she had to sue to retrieve only a part of the $25,000 she was owed.
“I’m amazed she can show her face,” Holm told The Daily Beast, “but some people are just bold.”
“It was a very slow payment,” she added. “It took over a year for her to pay the increments each month… It was so awful and such a waste of time, which I think was part of the strategy at the time.”
Others that took Blouin to court in 2013 include Helix Systems, which provided her company’s technical support, over a $54,000 balance. The case was settled a year later, Manhattan civil court records show.
Trapp Lewis, an executive hired to expand Blouin Media’s products in the Asia Pacific region, sued Blouin over a terminated contract as well, court papers show.
Lewis, who was cut loose after eight months, said he was owed $60,000 in pay and expenses. A settlement was reached a year later to be paid in four installments, but Blouin defaulted in making the second payment of $10,000, court documents state.
It’s unclear what happened after Lewis’s attorney filed a notice of default. The Daily Beast was not able to reach Blouin’s lawyer for comment.
Former employees told The Daily Beast that Blouin’s alleged financial problems were common knowledge at the office.
One former employee said that compared to other rich people he’s known, Blouin “was quite cheap.”
“At least with freelancers, we’d have this contractual ruse,” the insider said, adding, “She was very contemptuous towards everyone who wasn’t upper editorial management.”
The wordsmith said Blouin’s office culture was “really toxic” and “a dark place to work because Louise, who was capricious and tyrannical and has no real connection to the realities of publishing, would sort of start up whole new branches of an enterprise on a whim and demand to know why they weren’t flourishing.”
“She’s a rich person,” the ex-employee said. “Maybe she was a little bored. She clearly thinks of herself as a Graydon Carter or David Bradley. She did it to aggrandize herself.”