In Pictures: Simon de Pury Looks Back on a Whirlwind Year of Auctions, Celebrity Sightings, and Images That Stopped Him in His Tracks
For his last column of the year, the auctioneer shares 12 moments that made a mark on him in 2022.
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.
As 2022 comes to a close, our columnist opens up his iPhone photo library to reflect on the year in 12 special images…
2022 started with a glimmer of hope that the pandemic was in retreat and that travel restrictions were soon going to be a thing of the past. The top galleries followed their clients to their secondary homes or holiday destinations. Gagosian as always was at least one step ahead of the game. They secured the best location in the main street of Gstaad. Its density of high-net-worth individuals ensures that prospective buyers walk past two three times a day.
February 24th was the start of the war in Ukraine. Only four months earlier I had been invited to take part in the jury of the Miss Ukraine contest. After the event I spent the evening with Ukrainian and Russian friends having a great time as was always the case when I was visiting Kiev. They were all close buddies and interrelated. I took this photograph inside a church that afternoon. The end of 2022 is upon us with the horrors of this war raging on and no end in sight.
The art market had adapted quickly to Covid by at long last embracing technology. Most big charity organizations however didn’t find a way to compensate for the loss of fundraising arising out of their cancelled galas. 2022 allowed them to revert back to this effective method of getting financial support. I have conducted nearly twenty benefit auctions around the globe this year. The photograph above was taken by Jennifer Flavin of her husband Sylvester Stallone and myself on the occasion of the annual amfAR Gala that was held at the home of collectors John and Amy Phelan in Palm Beach, Florida.
Sometimes the art world can be very quick on its feet. A benefit auction, to raise funds for Ukrainian cultural institutions hit by the war, was organized at very short notice thanks to the initiative a.o. of Peter Brant Jr., Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, Maja Hoffmann, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Mikolaj Sekutowicz. It took place at the Scuola Grande Di San Rocco, which has a number of major Tintoretto’s hanging on its walls. I have conducted auctions in a number of spectacular settings over the years but this one is undoubtedly one of the most amazing ones.
With so many people having postponed special parties for so long there was a lot of catching up to do this year. Venice was a popular choice, so much so that between an Indian wedding, a Greek christening, a Venetian wedding and a Pakistani birthday party, I seemed to return to Venice every second weekend! The great side effect was that I kept returning to the Venice Biennale. I have gone to a few over the years, but I found none as exciting and exhilarating as the 2022 edition brilliantly curated by Cecilia Alemani.
Omnivorous is the way I could describe my constant urge to visit artists, collectors, museums and exhibitions wherever I go. “(Un)Pleasant Journey—The Life of Stefan Edlis after HIM” at the Jewish Museum of Vienna is an exhibition that hit a particular chord. I fondly remember Stefan as one of the most passionate, intelligent, and fun collectors I ever met. This show recounted his eventful life after he had to flee Vienna at the age of sixteen before building a formidable collection with his wife Gael Neeson which they donated to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Some of the most exciting images I have seen this year are the stunning photographs released by NASA in July. They were taken by the James Webb Space telescope and show a tiny part of the universe; galaxies and galaxies with light that has traveled since the origin of the universe some 13 billion years ago.
“Women—Art in Times of Chaos” is the title of the first primary market only auction that I curated for de-PURY.com and which my avatar conducted. It was a great success with 11 of the 16 artists included setting new world record prices. Sotheby’s as well as Hauser & Wirth soon after announced their own primary market auctions. More galleries will follow no doubt next year. I for my part look forward to curating a few more primary market auctions in 2023.
Of the numerous benefit auctions I conduct year in year out all over the world, the annual Summer Nights Gala at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel is one of my favorites. Each year a different artist curates the event. One year Rirkit Tiravanija made me fly, gavel in hand, over the audience of bidders at their and my own peril! After artists such as Marina Abramovic, Maurizio Cattelan, Olafur Eliasson, or Pipilotti Rist, it was Scottish artist Douglas Gordon’s turn this summer to orchestrate the night. The dress code he imposed was “Kilt & Adidas.” Sam Keller—the brilliant Director of the Fondation Beyeler—told me it was a matter of honor to wear nothing under one’s kilt. So of course I was going to act as an honorable guy!
The art world is a traveling circus that sets up its tent in a different location every week. After a well-attended Frieze Masters and Frieze London, St Pancras International railway station transformed itself into a gigantic art preview party as everyone was catching the Eurostar on their way to the first iteration of Art Basel Paris. On this photograph I am with Lauren Taschen, Mr. StarCity and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn.
It’s not that long ago that one used to wonder if the art world would witness at some stage a $1 billion auction week. The blockbuster auction at Christie’s New York last November of the Paul Allen Collection produced the first $1.5 billion dollar evening sale. The first $1 billion single artwork can’t be far off! One of my absolute favorites was the world record-beating Large Interior Paddington by Lucien Freud. Its composition was inspired by Pierrot Content, a small Watteau gem that is hanging in the Museo Thyssen in Madrid. The genius of Lucien Freud, an artist that I have revered forever, can be admired in two stunning exhibitions in London at the moment at the National Gallery and at Gagosian.
Walking next to me can be a very frustrating experience as I stop every five seconds photographing something with my iPhone that just caught my attention. In London the week before last I was tearing through Mayfair on the way to the next gallery when I suddenly saw this vintage Mini with a fully decorated Christmas tree on its top. I had to snap it as this image for me is the photographic equivalent of a feel good Christmas movie. On the cusp of 2023 I am aware that there are dark clouds on the horizon and even a staunch optimist like me is seriously challenged. Even so I would like to think like the Martin Creed art work Everything is going to be alright! I take this opportunity in wishing the readers of Artnet News Pro and of this column my warmest wishes for a blessed holiday season and a very Happy New Year!
Simon de Pury is the 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 now an auctioneer, curator, private dealer, art advisor, photographer, and DJ. Instagram: @simondepury
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