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Russian Luxury Retailer Acquires Phillips de Pury & Company

Russian luxury-goods company Mercury Group has acquired auction house Phillips de Pury & Company for an undisclosed price.

NEW YORK—Russian luxury-goods company Mercury Group has acquired auction house Phillips de Pury & Company for an undisclosed price. Simon de Pury will continue as chairman of the company and will remain an “important” shareholder, according to a statement issued by Phillips.

Previously, de Pury was the majority shareholder. Other partners with a stake in the auction house include Phillips contemporary-art director Michael McGinnis and international specialist Michaela Neumeister. Because Phillips is privately held, the company does not provide detailed information on its ownership.

According to the statement from Phillips, talks with Mercury Group began in July 2007 and continued for more than a year. “This partnership with a major player in the luxury sector will allow us to provide a unique platform to new and fast growing markets,” de Pury said in the statement. “Russia has clearly emerged as an important art market.”

Phillips spokesperson Ariel Childs told ARTnewsletter, “We are looking forward to announcing Moscow initiatives which will capitalize on the new arrangement with this major player in Russia.”

Owned by Leonid Friedland and Leonid Strunin, Mercury Group is Russia’s largest luxury retail company. Its holdings include the Tretyakov Projezd and Barvikha Luxury Village—both high-end shopping centers—and TSUM, its flagship department store, next door to Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. Mercury’s properties house boutiques for such fashion brands as Gucci, Prada and Giorgio Armani, as well as showrooms for Ferrari, Maserati and Bentley automobiles. According to a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, the group’s 2006 turnover was estimated at $850 million.

TSUM was the main venue for the Second Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, and Barvikha Luxury Village—in a billionaire enclave just outside the city—was the venue for a Gagosian Gallery exhibition last October.

Success with Cutting-Edge Contemporary

Phillips has had its share of ups and downs in the past decade. After LVMH owner Bernard Arnault acquired a majority stake in 1999, the company made an unsuccessful attempt to compete with Sotheby’s and Christie’s, often through aggressive use of guarantees, which were not always recouped at auction. Arnault sold his majority stake in 2002.

In recent years, Phillips has successfully carved out a niche for itself by holding sales of cutting-edge contemporary art, photography and design, in addition to conducting private treaty sales. A Phillips statement said that its ¬sales of contemporary art rose 80 percent between 2007 and 2008.

The auctioneer has also organized selling exhibitions of work by such contemporary artists as Julian Schnabel and Mario Testino, and represents the estate of Helmut Newton. Phillips also recently announced its exclusive representation of photographer Annie Leibovitz (see story below).