Simon de Pury: Artist Creator
The former chairman of Phillips – with the golden auction hammer – has facilitated the rise of many art superstars. His unmatched eye for spotting the next big thing and business savvy catapulted him into the upper echelons of the art world – a place he holds with aplomb. Here, he speaks to TLmag about his departure from the company he helped build and what’s on the horizon.
TLmag: What drew you to art initially?
Simon de Pury: I grew up in Basel, a small provincial city that is known for its art scene with fantastic museums like the Kunstmuseum and the Kunsthalle – which were the first European institutions to put American abstract expressionists on display. It also had the greatest art dealer of that time, Ernst Beyeler, whose gallery would open a show every other month – that was better than the last. So without realizing it I was exposed to the best international contemporary art from a very young age. I loved to draw and paint in kindergarten and it was my dream to become an artist. If you are interested in creating art, you go and look at the work of others. Basel with its exceptional cultural offering opened my eyes and awakened my passion for art, which has never left me since.
TLmag: Why did you decide to leave Phillips, a company you had invested so much in?
SDP: I’ve had various stages in my life and every eight to ten years, I do something new. It isn’t only in politics that people should move around after a certain time. Whenever you put yourself into a situation where you give up something that you love very much, it is incredibly hard but at the same time, it opens up new perspectives. I guess it is similar to sports. It is better to move on once you’ve won a few medals than hanging on until they have become distant memories. That has been my engine so far, to maintain a level of curiosity and be constantly stimulated by what I do. You are far more creative if you continue to force yourself beyond routine.
TLmag: What are the big trends you are seeing in the art world today?
SDP: Artists have many different ways of expressing themselves. From a market perspective, it is still canvas or sculpture that are the most sought-after mediums. Installations and performance are more difficult for the market to monetise or for private collectors to buy into because of their ephemeral nature – but are vibrant disciplines nonetheless. For example, seeing Marina Abramović bringing it to new levels is just exhilarating. Art has become a lifestyle, a mass phenomenon, and cultural institutions are now, attracting as many visitors as sports stadiums. Interest for the arts has spread, not only by numbers, but also geographically. It is a global marketplace – thanks to new technology – with London, New York and Hong Kong at it’s centre.
TLmag: You recently curated two shows in New York, something you had not undertaken in over two decades. How did this come about?
SDP: Adam Lindemann, who is an old friend and a great collector, asked if we could curate a show for his gallery Venus Over Manhattan and basically gave us carte blanche. At a time when new technologies are playing a dominant part in our lives, I thought it would be interesting to see how some artists are reverting to techniques that have been around since ancient times. Ceramics, glass and textiles are being used by more contemporary artists than ever before. We brought together work by Ai Weiwei, Stirling Ruby and Rosemarie Trockel and named the show ‘Fire!’ after the element that melded all of the art on view. The other show we curated was for Joe Nahmad, who has a gallery next to Lindemann on Madison Avenue. He gave us the opportunity to showcase the work of a young French artist called Guillaume Bruère, who we felt was immensely talented. We saw his work for the first time that summer at the opening of the Van Gogh Foundation in Arles and were surprised he had never had a gallery exhibition, so we were happy to bring him to the US.
TLmag: Where do you want to go with your new company de Pury de Pury that you and your wife Mihaela have started?
SDP: Our main activity is to organise private transactions. We negotiate sales and advise collectors on building up their collections by offering market insight and investment perspective. In my previous life, this process was very public, because of the nature of auctions, but now unless clients are prepared to speak about a purchase, we can’t disclose any information. Other than that, we are always being approached by friends and colleagues to curate projects. For the launch of Mary McCartney’s new book, we are putting together a showcase of her work and we are also preparing the first big exhibition of Wojciech Fangor – a major Polish artist, who is in his early 90s and produced incredible abstract work in the 60s and 70s, similiar to what a lot of young artists are doing now. We want to demonstrate how influential he truly was. In Poland he is revered as a great master, but he is not sufficiently known on an international level and I think the show will be a revelation. With de Pury de Pury, we are interested in both ends of the market, giving young and under-appreciated talents a platform and continuing to sell established names, where the consensus does not need to be created first.
(originally published in TLmag 22, Autumn Winter 2014)