Simon de Pury is Chairman and Chief Auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Company, one of the world’s largest auction houses.
What advice do you have for a young collector?
See, see, and see again. It is the only rule for any collector. The more you see, what is good automatically sticks out.
Has your approach to collecting changed over the years?
No, it has not. I have always only followed my heart, my guts, and my instinct. I am now trying to learn to control my bulimic side. In collecting, as in other things, less can be more.
When it is time to sell?
Whatever the general constellation of the market, there are always great opportunities for buying and selling.
What was the first piece of art you ever purchased?
Erik Bulatov. Ne Prislonyatsa (Do not lean). Oil on canvas. 1987.
I was fascinated early on by the group of strong Russian artists, mainly Kabakov, Bulatov and Vassiliev, who in the 1970′s and early 1980′s were considered unofficial artists, who neither could travel abroad nor exhibit publicly. They also had great difficulties obtaining materials to paint since they were not members of the official artists union. All this changed with the historic auction that I had the privilege to conceive of and conduct for Sotheby’s in Moscow in July 1988. The Bulatov did not cost much, even if for my salary back then it was quite a stretch. Despite Bulatov’s stellar career in museums and institutions around the world, it took years for the market to finally recognize his major artistic importance. In 2007, my first wife sold Ne Prislonyatsa for a then record price at Phillips de Pury in London.
What was the last piece of art you acquired for your personal collection?
Sterling Ruby. Alabaster SR10-20. Acrylic, 2010.
Success, just like failure, can present a real challenge for an artist. I tend to admire artists who move on and explore new things, even if it would be easier to endlessly vary the kind of works that initially brought them success and recognition. I was not yet familiar with the kind of work that Sterling Ruby has embarked on in the last year prior to my last acquisition. My wife and I both independently fell in love with this work instantly.
Tell us an underrated artist or two you recommend pursuing.
There are about ten mid-to-late career artists that have not benefited from the last art market boom. Sooner or later their glass ceilings will break. Frank Stella and David Hockney are two striking examples. Then, of course, there are a few young ones that for the time being are totally underrated, but don’t expect me to divulge their names as I would like our clients to be the first to benefit from that advice.
What else are you passionate about?
Music and art are closely intertwined and a number of artists are gifted musicians. Jim Lambie, whose work I love and collect, is also one of the best DJ’s I have ever seen in action. When Francesca von Habsburg exhibited a small part of her collection at the Johanneum in Graz two years ago, she took over a club inside a mountain. Lambie was at the decks and he brought the whole proceedings to a boiling point, which transformed the Austrian mountain into an erupting red-hot volcano. As for my own DJ’ing skills I am still a total novice despite my very mature age. I am, however, as obsessed with music as I am with art and consider DJ’ing very similar to auctioneering. In both you have to be completely in tune with your audience!