Have you heard the one about the former chairman of Sotheby’s Europe who loved electronic music so much that he took part to a video music?
Or the one-time chairman of Phillips who agreed to star in a reality TV show for US channel Bravo?
What about the art advisor raised in Basel art who lives in London?
No, this is not the tale of many men but just one.
It’s the tale of Simon de Pury, first Pop auctioneer.
These days, the superstar auctioneer can be found dropping the hammer in various, often glamorous charity auctions around the world like the AMFAR auction during the Cannes festival or the sale organised by Leonardo di Caprio in Saint Tropez in July.
He is well known for his extroverted manner when holding the hammer:
But his circle of activities is much wider than this.
As we speak, he is curating an exhibition of the contemporary painter George Condo in Baku.
In addition, in partnership with his wife Michaela, he is involved in collection curation, private sales, property projects involving art and online activities in collaboration with Net-A-Porter.
It is plain to see that Simon de Pury is someone who likes nothing better than to tear down barriers in art.
Though his look is confirmedly old-school, double-breasted jacket and an affable air, contrary to appearances he is completely fascinated by what’s happening now, while also having a long memory.
He recently published ‘The auctioneer , adventure in the art trade’ (St Martin Press) in collaboration with William Stadiem, a journalist who writes for Vanity Fair.
Simon de Pury confesses that his hyperactivity stops him from reading and that the only one book he ever managed to read to the end, ‘High Curiosity’, was written by France’s most famous auctioneer, Maurice Rheims in 1975. This book in fact was the reason he decided to become an auctioneer.
Though discrete by nature, de Pury reveals in the first chapter, ‘my naked portrait’, some glimpses of his private life.
On the subject of the Canadian businesswoman , owner of Blouin ART INFO,Louise Blouin MacBain for example, he writes: « Her power and success, not to mention the Marie Antoinette splendor of her lifestyle, were aphrodisiacal. ».
There are also numerous assessments of the market. For instance, he asserts that Jean-Michel Basquiat is the Van Gogh of our times.
«What else could work as a common denominator for the diverse tastes of Wall Street, Russia, China and Arabia? (…)These two tortured geniuses have been posthumously elevated into the pantheon of cultural capitalism » .
There follows from here an analysis of Basquiat’s rising stock.
De Pury describes with a joyful sense of self-deprecation his journey among the ‘greats’ of art, from Peter Wilson the legendary chairman of Sotheby’s to Baron Thyssen whose collection in Lugano he would become the curator. The book’s cast of characters, from Ronald Lauder to Russian oligarchs, passing through Jeff Koons, is enumerated with an odd detachment: neither snobbery nor affection.
Simon is content to merely observe.
Women, especially: «I’ll never forget an early-in the- affair lunch for twelve Heini (Hans Heinrich von Thyssen) gave at the Plaza Athénée. All the eyes of Tout Paris were on Tita, who was wearing a skirt so short that I thought all she had was a belt».
The concluding chapter kicks off with a circumlocution, a figure of speech that Simon de Pury is fond of: « When I get the inevitable queries ‘ What are you doing next?’ or ‘Where is art Going?’ I finally have an easy answer. Im going, and art is going, where everything else the world is going. To the internet».
But reality catches up with us. We are in the middle of the interview when Michaela interrupts and insists that Simon has his breakfast to gather his strength for the auction that is presiding over that evening. After all, does he not write in chapter 17: « To become my own man;, I realized, I needed the partnership of a woman »?
Mission accomplished, by breakfast.