Auction Veteran Simon de Pury Explains the Bold Business Model for His Latest Auction, Designed to Benefit Artists Above All


Art-industry watchers have come to rely on auction veteran Simon de Pury for putting a fresh spin on the shows and initiatives he organizes. His latest venture does not disappoint.

His now show, “Women: Art in Times of Chaos,” is billed as “a game-changing virtual exhibition” with works made in the past three years by outstanding contemporary artists including Alexis McGrigg, Chloe Wise, and Allison Zuckerman. It will culminate with a live auction on August 25.

Each artist was invited to offer an artwork of their choice made no earlier than 2019. 

Asked about how the artists were chosen, de Pury said that while compiling lists of contemporary artists he admires, he realized that the majority were female.

“Artists are mediums who show us common mortals things that we don’t know or understand yet,” he said. 

While some artists created works for the show, others consigned works they created during the prescribed time frame, which de Pury aptly calls a “time of chaos.”

Chloe Wise, Feelings For You. Image courtesy the artist.

Chloe Wise, Feelings For You. Image courtesy the artist.

One big perk for the participating painters? The entire hammer price for any lot will go to the artist and the gallery that represents them.

Further, three percent of the hammer price will be deducted from the buyer’s premium and paid out to UN Women, the largest women’s charity in the world. It promotes programs, policies, and standards focused on upholding women’s human rights.

“I was working at Sotheby’s in the mid 1990’s when it was decided that the annual bonuses for business-getters was no longer going to be determined solely on the level of auction consignments they were securing each season, but also on how many private sales they were successfully negotiating for the firm,” de Pury told Artnet News on the occasion of the new exhibition. 

It changed everything, he said, with private sales rapidly turning into a key component to the profitability. While Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips don’t separate out their private sale totals, it can be safely assumed that their figures would rank among the top turnovers of all major art galleries.

Alexis McGrigg, Undone (2022) Image courtesy the artist.

Alexis McGrigg, Undone (2022) Image courtesy the artist.

The business model for the show, which emerged out of the pandemic, suggests how quickly the art industry returned to its old ways as soon as restrictions disappeared, almost as if they had never been in place.

“This is quite natural, since as individuals we tend to quickly forget the shocks we have survived,” de Pury said. “It is mostly the youngest artists and the most adventurous galleries who have supported this project. On the whole, artists are risk adverse and are afraid to make a step that could be seen to be out of line with what used to be the norm.”


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