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The art community is very familiar with Simon de Pury—from auctioning off some of today’s most valuable and treasured pieces to his uncanny humor and social media presence. For this London edition of Whitewaller, we spoke to the art aficionado about his life behind the sale, his latest art discoveries, and his new book The Auctioneer: Adventures in the Art Trade (published by St. Martin’s Press).
WHITEWALLER: Tell us about your new book, The Auctioneer, which launched in London over the summer. Could you share one particularly thrilling adventure in the art trade?
SIMON DE PURY: Having an extremely short attention span, I have read very few books in my life. One book that impressed me when I read it as a young man was Haute Curiosité written by Maurice Rheims—the best auctioneer in Paris at the time. My conclusion reading it was that this was the kind of life I wanted to lead myself. Over the years I felt that this wish had been amply rewarded, sometimes even a little bit too much, so that I often had to invoke Jenny Holzer’s phrase “Protect me from what I want.” Somewhere in the back of my head I always had the desire of one day co-writing my own book. Thanks to William Stadiem this became a reality.
One adventure that I lived to be able to recount at all: When I went with the photographer Malik Sidibé and the collector Monique Barbier-Mueller on a boat on the Niger from Mopti to Nyafunke to visit the musical giant Ali Farka Touré. At a place where we were surrounded by crocodiles, the boat suddenly caught fire and I had to quickly make up my mind if it was better to be burnt alive or to be eaten by crocodiles. Luckily, for us on the boat at least, things had a more pleasant outcome with a divine private concert that expected us in the home of Ali Farka Touré.
WW: Can you tell us a little about how you find new artists to get behind?
SDP: I am obsessed by art of all periods and civilizations, but the most exciting thing is trying to detect tomorrow’s biggest talents early. I therefore spend my time visiting exhibitions, art fairs, galleries, museums, artist studios, auction previews, reading newspapers, magazines, surfing the Internet, and social media. The more things you see, what is really worthy of interest automatically sticks out.
WW: Being an art auctioneer, you’ve seen many works sell to a number of people. What was the most impressive piece you’ve sold?
SDP: The most impressive piece is always the next one. I put the same degree of enthusiasm into a big sale or a small auction, into a commercial auction or a charity sale, into an expensive or a less valuable work. My last sale was the benefit auction for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in Saint Tropez this summer. It was immensely gratifying to help raise in excess of $45 million in one night for such a great cause and to beat twelve artist records.
WW: You look at a great deal of art on a daily basis. What intrigues you about the art world in specific, and has kept you where you are within the industry?
SDP: You can’t ever get jaded or bored of looking at art. There are always new things to see or discover and luckily no routine at all. My inner engine is my curiosity and my love of the hunt.