Simon de Pury on How Soccer Offers Art Its Next Great Crossover Moment

Is the "beautiful game" the market's next frontier?

Huge sculpture in the likeness of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama pointing at a Louis Vuitton store with a paintbrush, rue du Pont Neuf, Paris, France, Europe. Photo: Glen Sterling/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Every month in The Hammer, art-industry veteran Simon de Pury lifts the curtain on his life as the ultimate art-world insider, his brushes with celebrity, and his invaluable insight into the inner workings of the art market. 

The art market is still infinitesimally small! Sure, during my fifty-plus years of activity in it, the market most certainly has expanded both in numbers and geographically. Someone recently said (please forgive me for not mentioning who it was as I occasionally have bouts of CRAFT: Can’t Remember A F…..g Thing!) that the guesstimate for the total yearly turnover of the global art market including auctions, art fairs, galleries, dealers, flea markets, and online sales is about equivalent to the annual turnover of FedEx. Even at the top end of the wealth pyramid, the market is relatively small. Whenever you look at the popular lists of the richest individuals of various countries, you realize that only a small number among them can be considered as real and serious collectors.

One of the main reasons for this is that the art market, of all existing markets, has been the most successful at resisting change, preferring to defend the status quo rather than explore the infinite possibilities of disruption that first the technological and now the A.I. revolution offers it. Covid-19 gave it a jolt and leap forward that allowed it to catch up on some lost time. But as soon as the pandemic was over, the art market has tried to return to the good old days as if nothing had ever happened. This is perfectly understandable: In my own life I have occasionally been in a total state of shock when fate threw me a curve ball. I was promising myself to drastically alter my behavior if and when things would get better. When I eventually came out at the other end of the tunnel, I forgot all the endured pain and instantly reverted back to what my life was before as if nothing had ever happened.

Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz at the opening of “Giants: Art From The Dean Collection Of Swizz Beatz And Alicia Keys” at Brooklyn Museum, 2024. Photo: Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images.

To grow, the art market must fully embrace the opportunities technology offers it. In return, the massive commission rates, especially in the price range from $10,000 to $3 million, will have to come substantially down. The transparency that so many in the field are afraid of will bring about increased trust, confidence, and engagement. The expertise that is only offered to a few today will be widely accessible. The gamification of art education will make you learn without you realizing that you are actually learning. Knowledge in turn is what then feeds your curiosity and your yearning to see, experience, live with and acquire works of art.

The art world must constantly explore how to make itself more accessible to new areas.

Two men, Simon de Pury and George Condo, speak animatedly to one another in a crowded room

Simon de Pury and George Condo at the New Museum Gala in 2017. Photo: Clint Spaulding/Penske Media via Getty Images.

The marriage between art and music has taken place ages ago. John Lennon, Keith Richards and David Bowie all went to art school. Elton John’s collection of photographs is world class and currently attracting huge crowds to the V&A where part of it is currently being shown. Moguls in the music industry have consistently been top collectors from Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun to David Geffen. The rapprochement between hip hop and art happened gradually. It was Kanye West’s initiative to ask artists such as Takashi Murakami and George Condo to do some of his album covers. I remember selling the smashed up Maybach that Kanye West and Jay-Z had utilized for the video of their song Otis as lot number one of a contemporary art evening sale at Phillips de Pury in New York. Soon most major stars of hip hop such as Swizz Beatz became very active collectors. Whoever spends most in the art market becomes a taste maker. This certainly was a key factor in the long overdue ascent of artists of color. It is mind boggling to think that before, Jean-Michel Basquiat was the only artist of color to have made it into key private and institutional collections.

Cécile Debray the President of the Musée Picasso in Paris holding the limited edition OLT / Picasso (Olympia Le-Tan) clutch bag curated by Simon de Pury with the approval of the Picasso family. Courtesy Simon de Pury.

Cécile Debray the President of the Musée Picasso in Paris holding the limited edition OLT / Picasso (Olympia Le-Tan) clutch bag curated by Simon de Pury with the approval of the Picasso family. Courtesy Simon de Pury.

The alliance between art and fashion is by far the strongest. It is after all French fashion designer Jacques Doucet who first acquired directly from Picasso his seminal masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Top fashion designers and executives have without exception all been important collectors going from Yves Saint Laurent to Karl Lagerfeld via Valentino, Tom Ford, Gianni Versace, Marc Jacobs and Azzedine Alaïa. It is LVMH who have created the ultimate template for how a successful collaboration between art and fashion should be. For the career of many artists a collaboration with one of the LVMH brands can be more  helpful than an exhibition in a cultural institution. As such Bernard Arnault’s cultural impact goes way beyond of what any country’s minister of culture’s influence could ever be.

The relationship between art and cinema has also existed for a long time. Fernand Léger was fascinated by Cinema in general and by Charles Chaplin in particular. Pablo Picasso appeared as himself in movies done by Jean Cocteau and Henri-George’s Clouzot. Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel collaborated on the mythical Un Chien Andalou. Andy Warhol’s approach to filmmaking was at least as innovative as his approach to painting. From Steven Spielberg to George Lucas, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Brad Pitt the world of cinema is filled with avid art collectors.

The painter Pablo Picasso is a focal point in a black and white crowd image watching a bullfight which is out of frame.

Pablo Picasso, at a bullfight with (right) poet-playwright Jean Cocteau in 1955, Grace. Photo: Vittoriano Rastelli/Getty Images.

The one crossover that hasn’t really happened yet is the one between art and football. When I say football, I mean what is referred to in the U.S. as soccer. When football is played at the highest level it is to me as magical as only great art, music, or cinema can be as it lifts you to the best of what a human being can do.

Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi are outstanding artists, as were Pelé and Maradona before them, and as Kylian Mbappé, Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham aspire to be. While Michael Ballack the German former Chelsea player, or Fabio Capello the Italian former manager of the English national team, were occasionally sighted at art fairs football has shown little love to art and vice versa. Nicolas de Staël is the only major artist to have done some great works based on football as could be seen in the gorgeous de Staël retrospective that took place last year at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris.

A woman stands in front of artwork featuring broad, textured brushstrokes in a palette dominated by deep blues, muted whites, and earthy browns. The composition is characterized by its geometric abstraction, with overlapping rectangles and forms suggesting a fragmented, aerial view of a stadium and surrounding landscape.

A woman looks at the 1952’s Parc des Princes by Nicolas De Stael at the Christie’s France headquarters in Paris, on October 16, 2019. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images.

Some ten years ago I had been invited by a member of the strategic management team of Adidas to visit its fascinating headquarters in Germany. I suggested to him that it would be totally fabulous if, during the World Cup, Euro or Africa Cup of Nations each national team had their jerseys designed by a top artist of their country. Imagining the German team in outfits created by Gerhard Richter playing against the British team with David Hockney outfits or the Japanese one wearing Yayoi Kusama jerseys was too wonderful to dream about. The executive responded favorably to the idea and asked me to explore if Richter would be open to the concept. I therefore contacted Joe Hage the genius lawyer who is very close to both Gerhard Richter and Damien Hirst. After discussing it with Richter he came back to me saying the artist had no interest in doing it.

It is all a question of timing in life. It simply was not the right moment for it yet. The best football players and most successful managers are bigger than rock stars today and are earning ever bigger amounts. The day some of them discover the joys of collecting can’t be too far away.

The appeal of football is universal. When more bridges will have been built between it’s world and the one of art the benefits will be multiple and mutual.

It is by conquering one by one new areas that the art market will grow substantially.

Simon de Pury is the founder of de PURY, former chairman and chief auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Company, former Europe chairman and chief auctioneer of Sotheby’s, and former curator of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. He is an auctioneer, curator, private dealer, art advisor, photographer, and DJ. Instagram: @simondepury.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics