The Hammer

Simon de Pury on How the World’s Top Fashion Houses Have Worked With Artists to Create a Red-Hot Market for Collaborations


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.

In 2019 I conducted an auction in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, to raise funds toward protecting the dwindling population of snow leopards. Included in it was a clutch bag by Olympia Le-Tan. There was spirited bidding, and to my own surprise the price had climbed up to $90,000 by the time I sold it to a very elegant lady in the room.

A few days after the auction, OLT’s cofounder Grégory Bernard asked me to curate a collection of clutch bags for them. I accepted, as at a number of galas and special events I had been struck by the originality of these accessories, which reimagine classic book covers and art, and were invariably worn by the most interesting women. Olympia Le-Tan managed to create an exquisitely crafted fashion accessory that looks as good when in use or when simply lying on a coffee table.

I was a great admirer of Olympia’s father, Pierre Le-Tan, whose illustrations graced the pages of numerous publications, including the New Yorker, Vogue, and the New York Times Magazine. He was also a connoisseur and eclectic collector. I had the privilege of being the auctioneer for the sale of part of his collection at Sotheby’s in London in 1995.

Tête de femme avec un chapeau à pompons, OLT X Picasso.

Tête de femme avec un chapeau à pompons, OLT X Picasso.

Before giving thought as to which favorite album or book covers to select, I felt the dream would be to choose works by the greatest artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso. I called Almine Rech Picasso to discuss the idea. She put me in touch with the Picasso Administration, for whom OLT prepared a detailed proposal. The embroiderers and stitchers started the search for the finest silk threads that would faithfully render the color range of the original works. Little did I realize that, after it was agreed, it would take months for each clutch bag to be produced. OLT will therefore come out every few months with another Picasso clutch in limited editions of 77.

This fun project made me reflect on the cross-fertilization between the worlds of art and fashion. The greatest fashion designers were at all times naturally drawn to art. It is therefore hardly surprising that some of them figure among the greatest collectors. Picasso’s seminal 1906 masterwork Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which is one of the quintessential works hanging at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), used to belong to the French couturier Jacques Doucet, who bought it in 1924. Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti, and Hubert de Givenchy are not only part of the pantheon of fashion but are also some of the most significant collectors and tastemakers in the world of art.

Despite that, there were clear borders between art and fashion. For an artist to do work for a fashion brand would have been seen as a perilous exercise.

The actual game changer was Bernard Arnault, the chief executive and owner of LVMH. Under his leadership, the designers of his main brands—above all Louis Vuitton and Dior—have instigated some of the most successful collaborations between artists and fashion houses to ever take place.

When a big retrospective of Takashi Murakami took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, not only did a number of paintings include the LV logo, but one room was devoted to the bags the artist had created for Vuitton, and they could be purchased then and there in the museum. Those manning the cash register must have been thrilled, but it made the soi-disant defenders of high art cringe.

Models hold Louis Vuitton bags designed by Richard Prince at the Louis Vuitton cocktail reception celebrating the Richard Prince exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum on January 8, 2007 in New York City. Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images.

Models hold Louis Vuitton bags designed by Richard Prince at the Louis Vuitton cocktail reception celebrating the Richard Prince exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on January 8, 2007, in New York City. Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images.

I am an unconditional admirer of Richard Prince, so when Marc Jacobs chose him to design a series of Vuitton bags covered with his jokes and nurses, I was ecstatic. The bags were released gradually, and the chief salesman at the LV store on the Champs-Élysées had the power to decide who was worthy of acquiring them. I would show up after each new release. He would ask me, “Did your wife like it?” I was not married at the time, but did not dare to admit that I was buying them for myself. The prices for Prince’s paintings were rising steeply, so while the bags are not exactly cheap, they were clearly more affordable than his canvases. I still have them wrapped up, and have actually never opened them.

The collaboration between Yayoi Kusama and Louis Vuitton helped towards establishing her in the art-world firmament. While the bags she created for the brand were being sold, her original paintings were being presented on the VIP floor of the Vuitton store on Bond Street in London. I was particularly fascinated by little plastic figurines of the artist herself. I was desperate to get my hands on one and used all my contacts, to no avail. I was told that they would all be destroyed once the display was over. I don’t know whether this really happened, but I have not come across any such figurine since. KAWS managed to do collaborations to satisfy both his “high” and “low” fan bases more or less simultaneously, when he collaborated with Dior and Uniqlo. I tried my luck at Uniqlo to get a T-shirt for my youngest daughter, but they were all sold out.

A general view during the Louis Vuitton And Yayoi Kusama Collaboration Unveiling at Louis Vuitton Maison on July 10, 2012 in New York City. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage.

A general view during the unveiling of the Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama collaboration at Louis Vuitton Maison on July 10, 2012, in New York City. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage.

I always felt that the work of Kenny Scharf was undervalued. His current collaboration with Dior has changed this. There has been heated competition for his works in recent auctions. There again are wonderful plastic sculptures created by Scharf for the Dior shop windows around the world. Here as well, I was unable to acquire any of them. Urs Fischer has also decorated the Vuitton window displays around the world. There would be a red-hot collector’s market for the temporary display objects the main fashion brands use for their collaborations with artists.

For his collaboration with the Vuitton brand, Jeff Koons used some of the biggest brands of art history: Da Vinci, Titian, Rubens, Fragonard, Boucher, Turner, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Manet, and Monet. Not only did he employ some of their best-known works, as he did in his gazing ball series, he also plastered their names in metallic capital letters across the accessories. The LV logo had a JK logo symmetrically placed across it, and a Koons rabbit in leather was attached to each bag. It was a brand splashing brands on a brand. In 2014, I auctioned a Koons sculpture inspired by Picasso’s Blue Period work La Soupe, which had several Hermès Kelly bags hanging on its arms. The proceeds went to a United Nations campaign for vaccination—we could use such a campaign now!—that was supported by Svetlana Kuzmicheva-Uspenskaya.

In the nearly 20 years since the initial cooperation between Takashi Murakami and Vuitton took place, such collaborations no longer ruffle the feathers of “serious” art lovers. On the contrary, the wider reach and recognition the fashion world is a must for any artist wishing for mainstream notoriety. With at least 40 percent Asian buyers in the main international contemporary art auctions, this is not surprising. After all, many of Asia’s mega-malls, notably in Japan, have been cultural dynamos, staging art exhibitions since the 1960s. As a believer in contemporary culture overall, I applaud the blurring of lines between the worlds of art, music, fashion, architecture, design, photography, and cinema.

Simon de Pury is the former chairman and chief auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Company and is a private dealer, art advisor, photographer, and DJ. Instagram: @simondepury

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Industry Veteran Simon de Pury on Why Portrait Commissions Are Making a Comeback for the Art World in the 21st Century


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.

When I was growing up, most of the paintings that were hanging in my family’s home were portraits of ancestors. Not being of royal lineage, none of them were painted by great masters. To an impressionable child, some of them were outright scary. 

But when my passion for art awoke as a teenager, I became fascinated by some of the greatest portraits ever made in art history. Portraiture has been a main strand in artistic practice through the centuries. The portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection epitomized for me the ideal of feminine and artistic beauty combined. Ghirlandaio himself can’t have been displeased with the portrait he was commissioned to paint in 1488, since he put on it a Latin inscription which roughly translated means “Art, if only you could depict character and soul, there would be no more beautiful painting on earth than this one.” 

Domenico Ghirlandaio (Italian, 1449–1494), Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, 1489-90, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain. Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images.

Domenico Ghirlandaio (Italian, 1449–1494), Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, 1489-90, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain. Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images.

Some of history’s most poignant portraits have been self portraits by art giants such as Dürer, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Goya, Van Gogh, Picasso, or Warhol. “All is Vanity” was a sentence that my mother kept repeating to me when I was growing up. That expression came from King Solomon. Vanity has always been the main engine behind self portraits and portrait commissions. It is that engine which today is behind the phenomenal success of social media platforms such as Instagram or TikTok. The advent of photography in the 19th century diminished the need for patrons to commission artists to paint their portraits, and the market for the practice dwindled. With time, photography became an art form in its own right and an additional medium through which artists could express themselves. 

One of my favorite questions to friends is: “If you could have your portrait done by any living artist, who would be your top three choices?” and the follow up: “What about for artists of the past?” Most people have to think hard before answering the first question, and can only come up with one name or two at most. Answering the second one comes much easier. The two most frequently mentioned artists in that category are Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol, artists who revived the tradition of portraiture in the 20th century. 

Eric Fischl, Simon and Ahn (2003). Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery.

Eric Fischl, Simon and Ahn (2003). Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery.

Freud took a very long time to complete a painting. His works were done from life, meaning that his sitters had to pose for hours on end. His love life was extremely active, and occasionally affairs with some of his female subjects would end before he had had the time to finish their paintings. He categorically refused to do portraits on commission.

In the early 1990s I was renting a flat in Holland Park, very close to where Freud had his studio. I would give dinners and would always try to have a fun mix of guests. On one occasion, I invited Freud as well as Eliette von Karajan, the French widow of the great conductor. As soon as he sat down at the table, Eliette told him: “I would like you to paint my portrait.” He instantly shot back: “Never ever would I do that; my art dictates whom I will paint! Eliette, who is far from being a pushover, answered equally abruptly and it was the start of a very intense and long exchange. The other guests stopped talking and were riveted by the skirmish. Years later, Lucian would still ask me “How is Eliette?” and Eliette would sometimes mistakenly call me Lucian.

With Warhol things were the exact opposite. From 1968 onwards, he made numerous portrait commissions. He utilized the hugely popular SX-70 Polaroid camera to take snapshots of his sitters. This took no time at all. His staff would then make a silkscreen which was used as the basis for the portraits. In the early 80s the price for one portrait was $25,000. Anybody who was anybody had to have their portrait done by him.

My own top three choices to have my portrait done by a living artist would be: David Hockney, Elizabeth Peyton, and Richard Prince. I loved the exhibition of 82 portraits done by Hockney at the Royal Academy in London in 2016. Elizabeth Peyton’s oeuvre consists mostly of gorgeous portraits done of celebrities past and present. Richard Prince’s Instagram portraits would probably be the closest equivalent today to the society portraits Warhol was doing in the 1970s and ‘80s. When you check #selfie on Instagram you see it has been used at least 450 million times. The ultimate ego trip therefore has got to be to have your IG portrait done by Richard Prince. 

But there is a big snag with my dream list. None of these artists will agree  to do portrait commissions unless you are their close buddy or the Queen of Sheba. Even with my extended dream list, which would include Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald—who did the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama—Amoako Boafo, Cindy Sherman, Mickalene Thomas, Zeng Fangzhi, as well as photographers Mario Testino, David LaChapelle and Juergen Teller, it would be near impossible to get a portrait commission out of them.

Anh Duong, <i>Le Bonheur Paralyse mon Esprit</i> (2013). Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska.

Anh Duong, Le Bonheur Paralyse mon Esprit (2013). Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska.

I would be hard pressed to name even five good contemporary artists who today would take on portrait commissions.

However, the tables may be about to turn. There are two exhibitions taking place currently of artists who do portraits on commission. Anh Duongh’s first solo show in Switzerland just opened at Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich. Long an insider tip amongst art lovers, she has over the years made portraits of some of her friends such as Diane von Fuerstenberg and top model Karen Elson. Her strongest works, however, are her self portraits. Her penetrating gaze dominates these and they are the 21st century equivalent of Frida Kalho’s powerful self portraits. She has in the past exhibited in New York at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. This exhibition shows that her most recent work is her best, which is an excellent sign for a mid-career artist.  

Henry Hudson, Sean Scully (2021). Courtesy

Henry Hudson, Sean Scully (2021).

The other exhibition is one that I have the pleasure to present. “Henry Hudson—Microcosm,” is currently taking s place in the artist’s East London studio. Where Anh Duong paints oil on canvas, Henry Hudson first uses his iPad to take a photograph of his sitters. Using the Procreate app for digital painting he transforms these photographs into striking images, which he then prints on different surfaces using a U.V. flatbed printer. The final outcomes are unique works that have different textures depending on whether they were printed on slate, tile, denim, perspex, or dried flowers. He did the portraits of friends, artists, curators, dealers, and collectors from the microcosm of the art world. Like Anh Duong, Hudson does take on selected commissions. It takes Hudson even less time to do an iPad photograph than it took Warhol to do a Polaroid shot. The only thing the sitter has to do is to choose the size and the surface on which he wants the finished work to be printed. 

With artists like Hudson and Duong creating a new market for quality portraits on commission, the time-honored tradition of society portraits could be revived once more in the 21st century. Who will you choose to do yours?

 

Simon de Pury is the former chairman and chief auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Company and is a private dealer, art advisor, photographer, and DJ. Instagram: @simondepury

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Why Is the Art World Raving About Monaco? Simon de Pury Makes the Case for Why His Home Turf Is a Must-Know Industry Destination


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.

 

Monaco is becoming a key destination for art lovers.

This summer a big Giacometti retrospective will continue the strong exhibition program of the Forum Grimaldi. Under the patronage of Princess Caroline of Hanover, who is a formidable champion for culture in the principality, interesting exhibitions regularly take place at the Villa Sauber and Villa Paloma, which are part of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco.

In recent years Monaco has also started to play a more important role in the art market. Thomas Hug founded art Monte-Carlo in 2016, and after the obligatory 2020 hiatus, will stage its fifth edition from July 14 to 17. A lot of excitement is being caused by the imminent arrival of Hauser & Wirth, which will open a spectacular new space with an inaugural exhibition devoted to Louise Bourgeois in June. Rumor has it that Almine Rech, who with her husband Bernard Picasso is a Monaco resident, may soon also open a gallery. It seems top gallerists are finally realizing that Monaco is possibly one of the best locations to focus on in the hopefully soon-to-begin post-Covid world. 

Photo by Simon de Pury.

Photo by Simon de Pury.

After all, Gagosian, David Zwirner, and Hauser & Wirth are jostling to find appropriate spaces in Gstaad during the winter. St. Moritz has been a coveted place for leading dealers for a long time with Bruno Bischofberger as undisputed king working from his home, and Karsten Greve, Hauser & Wirth, Andrea Caratsch, Vito Schnabel, and Robilant+Voena all well placed to catch the attention of high net worth individuals who flock to the Swiss mountain resorts for the ski season.

But whereas in St. Moritz the activity is seasonal, with the peak usually concentrated during two weeks in the second half of February, Monaco offers a captive audience all year long and optimal conditions. It takes far less time to drive to Nice airport from Monte-Carlo than it takes to go from Mayfair to Heathrow. The climate is mild and pleasant, the hotels are first rate, and there is a plethora of top restaurants. 

For the art market to fully flourish, it needs the presence of leading galleries and a good fair, but also a strong auction presence. Here, things are also looking up. Sotheby’s will stage the auction of the Karl Lagerfeld Collection during the second half of 2021 in Monaco. This brings me back to the future. 

Sotheby's Chairman and chief auctioneer Peter Wilson (1913-1984) conducts a sale of Renaissance paintings at Sotheby's auction house in London on 28th November 1963. Photo by Les Lee/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Sotheby’s Chairman and chief auctioneer Peter Wilson (1913-1984) conducts a sale of Renaissance paintings at Sotheby’s auction house in London on 28th November 1963. Photo by Les Lee/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Forty-five years ago Monaco was already the favorite auction and art market venue of the leading collectors of the time. A law that dated from the time of Napoleon gave French auctioneers a monopoly in France, and prevented Anglo-Saxon companies such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s from conducting auctions in Paris. Peter Wilson, then the brilliant chairman of Sotheby’s, knowing that Monaco had a customs union with France, decided to start auctions in the principality. This allowed him not only to circumvent the French monopoly and compete for the best French estates but also to be able to sell works that were prohibited from leaving the French territory as they were regarded as national treasures.

Sotheby’s inaugural Monaco sale consisted of the collections of Baron Guy de Rothschild and Baron Alexis de Redé. Prince Rainier and Princess Grace took an old Art Deco train together with Peter Wilson from Nice to Monaco as part of the official opening festivities. The auction was a triumph. After that, one major collection after another was swooped away from under the nose of the main French auctioneers to be sold in Monaco’s most elegant rooms.

At the time, I was a little greenhorn who had just landed a job at Sotheby’s in London. Presumably because I spoke French, I was asked to move to Monaco to help with the burgeoning auction operation. Auctions were high glamor, black tie only events starting at 10 p.m. Collectors were sipping champagne while bidding. There were no sky boxes, and top collectors were present in the sale room. I remember seeing Gianni Agnelli, Stavros Niarchos, Baron H.H. Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Sir Charles Clore, all sitting in the room bidding against each other in a way you only see happening today at top end charity galas.

In 1978, the catalogue for the collection of French 18th century furniture of Daniel Wildenstein had been printed when a few days before the auction Akram Ojjeh bought the whole collection en bloc. One year later he consigned it to Sotheby’s Monaco which only had to change the preface and the title page of the catalogue. Collections of the Comtesse de Béhague, Serge Lifar, Alain Lesieutre, Marcel Janson, Karl Lagerfeld, and many more were sold during auction weekends that would take place three to four times a year.

Karl Lagerfeld and Simon de Pury. Courtesy Simon de Pury.

Karl Lagerfeld and Simon de Pury. Courtesy Simon de Pury.

In the late 1990s, under pressure from the E.U., the French government had to abandon the four-centuries-old monopoly afforded to French auctioneers. Sotheby’s and Christie’s (which meanwhile had followed its main competitor to Monaco) instantly moved the majority of their sales to Paris. This began a calmer period for Monaco as a marketplace. The great irony is that while Christie’s and Sotheby’s instantly became the undisputed auction leaders in Paris, thereby confirming the worst fears of French commissaires priseurs (auctioneers), today the two Anglo-Saxon companies are firmly in the French hands of François Pinault and Patrick Drahi.

Another essential ingredient for a strong art market ecosystem in Monaco is a local collector base. It is in and from Monaco that the three brothers Joe, Ezra, and David Nahmad laid the groundwork for their incredible collection and their art dynasty. There is a good density of major collectors in residence. I used to fantasize in Manhattan that it would be sufficient to have all the inhabitants of some individual buildings on Fifth or Park Avenue as clients in order to be hugely successful. There are some apartment buildings in Monte-Carlo whose inhabitants alone could keep an art business going for decades.

You wouldn’t necessarily regard Monaco as a place with a large community of artists. If you take the Côte d’Azur as a whole, however, it is a region which has at all times attracted top artists. Picasso, Matisse, Bonnard, Chagall, César, Arman, and many more have and continue to be attracted by the beauty and light of the region. Francis Bacon spent a lot of time in Monaco as you realize when you visit the extraordinary Francis Bacon Foundation that Majid Boustany has set up here. Helmut and June Newton also did some of their best work during the many years they lived here.

Prince Albert II of Monaco, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Simon de Pury attend the Gala for the Global Ocean. Courtesy Simon de Pury.

Prince Albert II of Monaco, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Simon de Pury attend the Gala for the Global Ocean. Courtesy Simon de Pury.

Today, I am happy to be back living in Monaco, which incidentally is the place where my father was born. I look forward to September 23, when I will be conducting the fifth annual gala auction for the Global Ocean that is being organized by the Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco. In the four previous editions of the gala I had the privilege of selling great works of art for this great cause. Last year the grandson of Joan Miró and the daughter of Roberto Matta donated strong works. Prince Albert II is globally one of the heads of state who does most for the environment. It is our responsibility in the art world to do what we can to help.

As this exciting momentum for the market continues to gather, I am excited to witness Monaco become an important art hub for the second time in my professional life.

Simon de Pury is the former chairman and chief auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Company and is a private dealer, art advisor, photographer, and DJ. Instagram: @simondepury

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