Ever since the end of 2012, when Simon de Pury left Phillips, the auction house where he had been a name partner, market watchers wondered what he would do next. Meanwhile, de Pury kept a relatively low profile, serving as a guest auctioneer at charity sales and curating the occasional gallery show, sometimes in collaboration with his wife Michaela. But now he is coming out with his first major venture, an online auction platform devoted to single-owner sales in partnership with the 150-year-old dealers Mallett Antiques. Its name is de Pury.
De Pury’s first sale will include some 400 pieces from the Lambert Art Collection, of the eponymous Belgian family that has been collecting for more than a century. Baroness Lambert oversees it today. The auction will include contemporary art alongside furniture dating back hundreds of years. The sale is titled “A Visual Odyssey: Selections from LAC (the Lambert Art Collection),” and a preview will be shown with designer Jacques Grange handling the exhibition design at Mallett’s London headquarters at Ely House. Bidding takes place on Monday, October 12, “in person in London and online, including tablet and mobile,” with video providing a high-quality stream of the action, according to a news release. The platform will eschew print catalogues for digital offerings.
De Pury’s financial angle seems to be to gain market share by undercutting competitors on lots under $2 million. The platform, which is backed by investor Klaus Hommels, will charge a 15 percent buyer’s premium on the first $2 million of a hammer price, lower than the 25 percent that Christie’s and Sotheby’s now charge on the first $100,000 and the 20 percent that is marked up to the $2 million figure. Above that threshold, de Pury’s charge will be 12 percent, which is in line with competitors. This morning, ARTnews talked with de Pury about the business.
ARTnews: When did you start thinking about doing something in the digital realm?
Simon de Pury: I was always intrigued and interested in what was happening with the internet, despite the fact that this was not our activity. Baroness Lambert asked us to help her with proposals from the three houses. They produced proposals, and she came back to me and said, ‘Why don’t you do it, and do it internet-only, with no physical catalogue?’ I thought it would be a fun program to work on. And this was shortly after we had been approached by Klaus Hommels, who had approached us to explore doing something on the internet. So it was a series of things happening that make you look at an opportunity and make you decide whether to do it or not.
Where will your new venture fit in in terms of other digital ventures?
I don’t think any of the existing online-only auctions, where there is no physical catalogue, have offered this quality of material before. The mix of property is very attractive and interesting and the scope and will set it apart from the collections that have been sold so far on internet-only platforms.
Tell me a bit about forgoing the usual physical catalogue for a digital-only approach…
A while ago, the auction houses started creating a new standard for physical catalogues with these huge catalogues, with boxes and everything. You would send one of these to the client at the client’s house in London, and then the client would call and say, “I’ve just arrived in New York, can you send one here?’ And you’d send one to New York. You’d send clients up to three or four of these packages. So there is some merit to dispensing with the physical catalogue. It is infinitely better from an ecological point of view.
What about the people who say ‘You can’t buy art from a digital image?
If someone’s first contact isn’t through a digital image, it is through the physical catalogue. By dispensing with the catalogue you get your first contact digitally, on your iPad or mobile phone. And then, if you are interested or intrigued, you should go and look at object yourself or send someone you trust to look at the object for you. So we will have the exhibition at Ely House, and Jacques Grange, the interior designer, will do an amazing job installing there. You will have the chance to inspect potential purchases.
There is a real mix of material in the first sale.
We are mixing things from different periods, not just contemporary design with contemporary art. There are things like 18th-century furniture and chinoiserie. It’s a really lively mix. When you look at historical exhibitions like the one Helly Nahmad did at Frieze Masters [a reproduction of the living room of a collector’s home] or the exhibition that just closed at Stephen Friedman Gallery, and Frieze Masters in general, there is an interest for collectors of contemporary art and design to take a wider view and look at a wider mix of property. And there is no better way to show that than in a single-owner-collector mode. Building a collection is an artistic process in itself. It always, in a way, carries the handwriting of the person who put it together. Here you have some things that were in the family for some time. And then contemporary things that have been chosen and bought by Baroness Lambert.
You are known for your very lively auctioneering. How will you convey that to those watching online?
We will try to convey a bit more of the atmosphere in the room to the person who is not in the room. We will try to make it visually enticing.
And what are the plans going forward?
The idea is to do two or three single-owner sales per year. The great thing about Ely House is it still looks like a private home even though it’s Mallett’s headquarters and filled with works for sale. When you walk through, you see bedrooms and drawing rooms. It gives you the feel of seeing art how it is lived with, not in a museum or gallery context. That is appealing. Very often it is difficult to imagine how a work will look in your own home.