Adventures in the Art Trade
Just as William Goldman, the ultimate screenwriter, took us inside Hollywood, Simon de Pury, the ultimate art player, will take us inside an even more secretive business, whose staggering prices, famous collectors, and high crimes are front page news almost every day. The former Chairman of Sotheby's Europe, the former owner of Sotheby's rival Phillips de Pury, and currently a London-based dealer and advisor to great collectors around the world, Simon has one of the highest profiles of any non-artist in the art world. Even though he has an ancient title and the aura of an elegant Swiss banker, Simon is famous as an iconoclast and is known as "The Mick Jagger of Auctions" for his showmanship and exuberance. His whole life in art has been devoted to bringing art to the public and to the juxtaposition of high and low. Movie stars, musicians, and athletes compete with hedge funders and billionaires for the great art, and Simon is their pied piper; he wants to turn the world onto art and this book will be his message.
In this eye-opening memoir, de Pury, a distinguished auctioneer and art dealer, provides a lively account of his flashy career and today's soaring art market, revealing a jet-setting, powerful, and private club of elites who buy, sell, and collect the world's most expensive art. De Pury fondly remembers his childhood home in the Swiss city of Basel, where art flows "in the veins of its citizens" and where he became hooked on art at a young age. He describes his formative first trip to American art museums, his frustrations as a failed artist and student, and his struggle to find a career within the art world. De Pury also details his slow climb to the top at Sotheby's, aided by larger-than-life mentors such as Peter Wilson, previous chairman of Sotheby's and a closeted gay man rumored to be both a KGB agent and the inspiration for Ian Fleming's James Bond. Though the narrative is often witty (the author's brief interaction with Arnold Schwarzenegger is highly amusing), the writing is weirdly exaggerated and unfunny at times, such as when de Pury compares himself to Stalin's victims when describing the Russian Mercury Group's takeover of his auction house, or when he calls himself a "drug orphan" after his father, a lawyer for a pharmaceutical company, was promoted and transferred to Tokyo. These quibbles aside, the book provides an interesting glimpse into a world of artists, collectors, and dealers in which "the call of the gavel was the call of the wild." Color photos.