Simon de Pury is regarded as one of the world’s most talented art auctioneers who has been described as “the Mick Jagger of art auctions.” He started as an auctioneer in his native Switzerland and was previously the European chairman of Sotheby’s. For seven years, he was also the curator for Baron Thyseen, who at the time had the largest private art collection in the world. During his career, the most expensive work he ever sold was Andy Warhol’s “Men In Her Life” which fetched $63.4 million in 2010.
Simon was the subject of a BBC documentary titled “The Man with the Golden Gavel” and also has a recurring role on the American TV show “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.” He recently participated in “The Igniters,” a film by Adrian Steirn on the emerging art scene in Azerbijan.
Simon is based between London and New York with his wife and daughter although he travels frequently. His private collection reflects his eclectic tastes and contains work by artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, Takashi Murakami and Juergen Teller. When not auctioning or travelling, Simon is a keen DJ which he does with his trademark panache dressed in a bespoke suit from his Milanese tailor.
What is your secret destination for browsing art in London?
My favorite destination to look at art in any city is to visit artists in their studios. This allows you to understand how they work, to see works in progress and hopefully have an edge over other potential collectors who will see their works only once they are exhibited publicly for the first time. The main reason though is that nothing is more stimulating than spending time with a highly creative person.
What is your favorite gallery in London and why?
London is the home for many outstanding galleries. Being particularly interested in the scene of the best young emerging international artists I enjoy going to 'Modern Collections' on 89 Mount Street. It has the advantage of being extremely close to where I live and it is run by Inigo Philbrick, one of the most talented young art dealers.
In your opinion, what is the best place to escape the bustle of London?
You can actually escape the bustle of London by discovering the city’s many gardens and parks. I love to sit on a bench and do my telephone calls from there. While you are smack in the middle of town the city’s green spaces have something immensely peaceful and I normally feel totally charged up again after half an hour spent there.
Where do you think is a great place to shop for unusual pieces of art?
London is with New York and Hong Kong one of the three main auction centers in the world. Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips stage auctions on a nearly daily basis. It is well worthwhile to follow these sales closely because even in the most publicized auctions there can be 'sleepers' that are works of art that for some extraordinary reason have escaped the attention of all other potential buyers.
What’s your favorite thing about London?
I love the fact that with New York, London is clearly the most international city in the world. My daughter goes to a pre-nursery school where the 37 children in her class have 37 different nationalities. As a Swiss, living in Geneva earlier in my life, I was the only Swiss at many dinner parties and my presence must have appeared as quite exotic. Am sure that some English friends living in London must occasionally experience the same thing.
Is there a specific UK or London artist you have your eye on?
One of my favorite artists is David Hockney. After many years spent in California he returned to the UK. 2011 saw a large exhibition devoted to his work at the Royal Academy that included many of his paintings of Yorkshire landscapes. The exhibition broke all attendance records. While he is very popular and widely known his work is in my mind still very much undervalued.
What is the best way to spend a Saturday morning in London?
I love to get up early and stroll through Hyde Park and go to the top and go to Notting Hill and have a cappuccino in one of the fun places there while reading the weekend papers. I may vary my itinerary and go to the bottom of the park and do the same in Knightsbridge.
What is your must-go art event in London during the year?
In mid-October the international contemporary art world descends onto London. Not only do the main auction rooms devote some of their main auctions to the topic but it is the time at which the important Freeze art fair is taking place. At the same time Tate Modern, the Saatchi Gallery, the Serpentine Gallery, the Whitechapel Gallery, the Hayward Gallery and the ICA all have important exhibitions.
What’s your signature cocktail and favorite place to meet with friends for drinks or dinner?
When you travel non-stop around the world survival is the name of the game and so I have lately given preference to drinking green tea rather than having strong drinks. If I still want to crash out and celebrate I will have a vodka tonic since that is the only drink where I do not feel any after effects the next morning.
What is your top piece of advice for someone who is about to start purchasing art?
See, see and see! The more you see the more things that are really good will leap at you. You are then also much better equipped to follow your own instincts and to develop your own passions.