​​Simon de Pury on the Artistic Delights of Monaco in the Summertime and Why DJ-ing Is Kind of Like Auctioneering

The veteran auctioneer also casts his vote on a throwback summertime hit.

Swiss auctioneer Simon De Pury conducts an auction during the annual amfAR Cinema Against AIDS Cannes Gala at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d'Antibes, southern France, on the sidelines of the 76th Cannes Film Festival, on May 25, 2023. Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP 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 summer is the only period when the relentless rhythm of the international art calendar seems to slightly slow down. In September the traveling circus of the art market will get back on the road with the second edition of Frieze in Seoul followed by Frieze London and Paris+ by Art Basel in October and the big New York auction weeks in November. All these events require of course a lot of preparation which do take place during July and August. 

While the pandemic and its restrictions luckily now seem mostly behind us, we need to adjust to the unsettling situation of constant disruption caused by weather catastrophes, raging war, an ever worsening polarisation, and a far from reassuring economic climate. There are some black clouds on the horizon which raises the question in what way they will impact the art market. A partial readjustment of the art market is taking place even if overall it is showing remarkable depth and resilience. I am an incurable optimist by nature and prefer to remain one by design. Whether you are an optimist or pessimist, you are always right in the end, you just have to wait long enough.

Summer is of course the time when children have their longest holidays and when a lot of their parents take time off as well. Cultural offerings become a key factor in determining the choice of travel destinations. Being based in Monaco since before Covid I have been lucky to witness close up the Principality, which is advantageously located between the Côte d’Azur and Italy, become a cultural powerhouse.

Installation view. Claude Monet, <i>Villas at Bordighera</i> (1884). Photo courtesy of Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Patrice Schmidt

Installation view. Claude Monet, Villas at Bordighera (1884). Photo courtesy of Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Patrice Schmidt

This was clearly apparent these last few days. The Forum Grimaldi opened “Monet en Pleine Lumière,” a spectacular exhibition of around hundred works by Claude Monet a lot of which were little known. A major focus is on paintings done by the artist on the Riviera around Monaco going from Bordighera to Antibes. The exhibition, brilliantly curated by Marianne Mathieu, contains many loans from private collections as well as public collections from around the world with examples from all periods of Monet. It ends in an apotheosis of late works of nymphéas. Even for viewers who are very familiar with the oeuvre of the great impressionist master this exhibition is an absolute must. It will last up to September 3.

While from an architectural point of view the outside of the Grimaldi Forum is definitely not one of my favourite buildings, the inside provides curators a blank canvas which allows them to create sensational installations. Under the direction of Sylvie Biancheri the Grimaldi Forum continues to churn one blockbuster after the other such as Francis Bacon, Salvador Dali, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Pigozzi Collection of African Art to mention just a few. 

Right across the street at the Villa Sauber there is a very interesting exhibition devoted to the work that contemporary artist Mauro Restiffe did after he spent some time in the house which Jean Cocteau decorated and lived in Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat between 1950 and 1962. The few paintings and drawings by Cocteau demonstrate once more that Cocteau who is mainly known as a writer is an outstanding visual artist. At Villa Paloma there is “George Condo – Humanoids,” a beautifully presented exhibition of strong works by Condo. Villa Sauber and Villa Paloma are part of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco that are under the lead of Princess Caroline of Hanover and are expertly run by Björn Dahlström. 

Exhibition view, "George Condo – Humanoids" Nouveau Musée National de Monaco – Villa Paloma. George Condo, Constellations II (2022). Private collection. Photo : NMNM/Andrea Rossetti, 2023 © 2023 George Condo / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Exhibition view, “George Condo – Humanoids” Nouveau Musée National de Monaco – Villa Paloma. George Condo, Constellations II (2022). Private collection. Photo : NMNM/Andrea Rossetti, 2023 © 2023 George Condo / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 Sotheby’s is presenting a selling exhibition of a private collection of works by Marc Chagall. Louise Gréther, the head of Sothebys Monaco, is also president of Monaco Art Week that took place between July 4 and 9. It federates the activities of Monaco‘s main cultural players that includes a.o. Moretti, Artcurial, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, G & M Design, Hauser & Wirth and Opera Gallery. Prior to running Sotheby’s in Monaco, Louise Gréther ran for a number of years Artcurial Monaco. Before that she was working for Kroll, the leading international company of Investigative Services which certainly is an unusual career path to get into the art world. This fact adds a touch of mystery to her natural elegance. The beautiful Casino Gardens that were designed in the late 19th century by the famous horticulturist Edouard André are filled every summer with 20th and 21st century sculptures that are part of Artcurial’s annual summer auction in Monaco. 

Hauser & Wirth currently have a show devoted to John Chamberlain and G & M Design have a wonderful exhibition of photographs by David Bailey, some of which had never been exhibited before, as well as some of his paintings. To coincide with all the above artmonte-carlo, the art fair run by Thomas Hug, staged its seventh edition. Its quality level was the highest so far. The limited number of participating galleries makes it a particularly appealing contemporary art fair. I do hope that the level of transactions that took place will encourage all participants to come back and encourage other top galleries to join. 

I was asked by Safia El Malqui and Thomas Hug to dj on artmonte-carlo’s opening night at Monaco’s legendary Sass Café. I absolutely loved doing it in this venue which is always packed and has a sizzling energy. I was once more reminded of the similarities between auctioneering and dj’ing. In both cases I get frightfully tense and nervous beforehand. The nagging question that am neurotically asking myself: “What if nobody will bid?” is being replaced by “What if nobody will dance?”. Both require the ability to improvise and to be able to tune in with the wavelength of your audience. Both activities can be ecstatic if you see that it is working. On the third day of the fair, I was asked to moderate a panel discussion between Francesco Bonami the Italian uber-curator a.k.a the super witty Bonamist @thebonamist on Instagram and Fabrizio Moretti, the owner of Moretti and Ward Moretti the distinguished galleries in Monaco and London that showcase art going from the 13th century to the present day. It was a very lively debate between two great connoisseurs who were generous both with their great sense of humor and their deep knowledge.

Fabrizio Moretti in front of a work by Pier Francesco di Jacopo Foschi at the opening of artmonte-carlo. Photo by Simon de Pury.

Fabrizio Moretti in front of a work by Pier Francesco di Jacopo Foschi at the opening of artmonte-carlo. Photo by Simon de Pury.

 Describing some of the art activities taking place this summer in Monaco alone makes me realise how important the Principality has become as a cultural destination. This doesn’t begin to take into account the opera, ballet, jazz and other events that enrich its cultural life.

Europeans are known for wanting to check out completely during July and or August. Perhaps precisely for that reason I have decided counterintuitively to stage two of de PURY’s primary market auctions CREATE! 21st Century Architecture & Design on July 26 and FIRE! Contemporary Glass & Ceramics on August 22. All works have been consigned by the artists themselves and the galleries representing them. I count on vacationing collectors being bored of too much lying down on beaches and using their iPhones, iPads or PC’s to go on de-pury.com and to bid actively in the exciting auctions that my avatar will conduct.

Following pop music at least as closely as art I am always trying to spot at the start of the summer the song that will become the hit of the summer. To conclude this article on an up and feel good note I would like to provide the link to my all time favourite summer hit by Mungo Jerry. In the Summertime. I loved it the second I heard it for the first time during the summer of 1970 and still love it as much all these years later!


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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