De Pury: Art should be available to all, not just select few

New reality TV show is putting the spotlight on art world.

Sara Jessica Parker 311 (photo credit: Barbara Nitke / Bravo)
Sara Jessica Parker 311
(photo credit: Barbara Nitke / Bravo)
When you think of Simon de Pury, chairman of the prestigious Phillips de Pury & Company auction house, or of his parallels in the high-end crowd of art professionals and collectors, you hardly envision a potential participant in a reality television show. But that is exactly what de Pury wants to change. He firmly believes art should be accessible to all, and what better way of doing that than via a TV show on a mainstream network?
With its aptly titled hit new show, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, the Bravo network is putting the spotlight on the art world. The show, produced by Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker, presents 14 emerging artists from a variety of backgrounds, each vying for his/her chance to be the next great artist. In addition to a hefty cash prize, the winner will be granted a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum.
In an in-depth interview de Pury gave to MutualArt.com, the renownedauctioneer discusses the show and explains why he believes the artmarket has recovered from the 2008 financial meltdown and provides someinsight into the next big markets to look out for.
MutualArt: How did you get involved with the show?
Simon de Pury:I felt that television so far had not really covered art in an excitingor entertaining way, and when I heard that Bravo was doing the show, Ithought it would be a great opportunity to show what it’s like tocreate a work of art, and to judge a work of art. I thought it would bea great opportunity to make art more accessible [to the generalpublic], not as the situation whereby art is elitist and made only fora few.
MA: What is your specific role in the show?
De Pury: Myrole in the show is that of a mentor. I look at the works of the 14contestants and give them tips and advice to prepare them for thereactions they may encounter once they show their work to the judges.
MA: How did the artists respond to you?
De Pury:It was a very pleasant experience; there was this great energy on theset. There was a great variety of personalities, different skills anddifferent talents. The common denominator was that they were all verysincere in the way they approached their work.
MA: Were you involved with the selection of the 14 contestants?
De Pury: Iwas involved with the initial casting, when nearly 1,200 artistspresented their works in four cities – Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, andNew York. Out of the 1,200 we selected 60 artists. Those artists werethen asked to prepare a video in which they presented themselves andtheir works; out of that group the production company chose the 14contestants.
MA: Some peopleargue that a reality TV show about art is bad for art, because it ismore about entertainment and less about quality. What do you say tothose people?
De Pury:I disagree with that view. I believe that art should be universallyaccessible. You have as many people who visit museums or exhibitionstoday as those who listen to music or go to sports events. Art also hasan advantage over some of the other reality shows already done, whetherfashion or food, in that it is immediately and visually understandableon the screen. Again, I think anything that makes art more easilyaccessible is a good thing.
MA: What can you say about your experience working with Sarah Jessica Parker?
De Pury: Itwas a pleasure to work with her as well as the production company. It’salways a pleasure to work with professionals, and of course it’s fun tolook into a different industry and a different field. What struck mewas how everyone worked very hard to make the show happen, and everyoneworked so well together, at all levels. She is clearly very interestedin art, and that came across as she was able to communicate herinterest and passion when she was directly in touch with thecontestants.
MA: How likely will success come to the winner of the show?
De Pury:I think it is a fabulous opportunity for any artist to have a one manshow at the Brooklyn Museum, which is one of the great institutions,and that in itself is an amazing incentive for all the contestants.Additionally, all the contestants have a chance to have their work inthe spotlight, and they’ll get some exposure this way. There are manydifferent ways nowadays that artists can get attention to their work.The internet allows for any artist around the world to present and giveinstant access to their work. Street art has also spread exponentiallyover the last few years. So there's no need to rely only on thetraditional channels to get attention.
MA: Any specific artist or work from the show that you especially liked in the early stages?
De Pury: Obviously,as a mentor I couldn’t voice my preference for one contestant overanother, and certainly there were some works that appealed more to methan others, in each competition. My choices didn’t necessarily alwaysoverlap with the opinions of the judges, but that’s the great thingabout art: Judging a work of art is ultimately very subjective and Ithink it’s very legitimate that we are looking at the same thing but inour own way, and forming our own opinions about it.
MA:Moving on to the art market, as someone with years of experienceworking with fine art, what is your current opinion of the art market?Are we truly in the recovery mode from the 2008 financial crisis?
De Pury:Yes, the slowdown of the market took place between October 2008 andJune 2009 and this was mostly reflected by the sharp drop in the volumeof works being offered on the art market at that time. That volume hascome back up…very quickly, and we’ve seen very strong results withauctions that took place last May in New York, with the great successof the Hong Kong Art Fair, and now with the Basel Art Fair about tostart, and there are some sales with some really great material inLondon in late June…so the volume and quality are both at top level,we’ve come back to where the market was before. Both the supply anddemand for art indicate that the art market is bouncing back, not justfor blue chip work but also from the more emerging side of the market.
MA:Do you think Picasso can break his own record at the upcoming June 23rdauction for his work “Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto?”
De Pury: Ihope this work will do very well, I had the privilege of being theauctioneer when it was on the market last time at Sotheby’s. I thinkit’s a fabulous work, and anything is possible We’ll see what happens!
There’sbeen a lot of excitement recently revolving around Russian andSoutheast Asian art. What is your forecast for collectors in terms ofthese two genres?

De Pury: Weconducted an auction at the Saatchi Gallery last April which was verysuccessful…with art from Brazil, Russia, India and China. The artmarket over the last five years has clearly become global. We’re seeinga lot of strong results from Asia in general, Latin America, and alsoAfrica and the Middle East. So [art from these countries] is taking abigger and bigger percentage of the overall art market, and over timeit will probably become a dominant part of the art market.
MA: What’s your advice for collectors with regards to offerings currently on the market? Are there any bargains to be had?
De Pury:I think the best advice is to see, see, and see again. To closelyfollow what is being offered at the art fairs and what’s being offeredat the auctions. Nowadays it’s very easy - through the internet - tofind out what works are selling where, and for how much.
MA: So do you think internet bidding will grow as well?
De Pury:Yes, internet bidding is growing very quickly…you know if there’s a hotauction the room will be packed, but as soon as a work goes above acertain price level most of the bidding is done over the phone or overthe internet, and now with the auctioneer being filmed, the bidder canget a feeling of the atmosphere in the sale room, and it makes it mucheasier to participate in a live auction wherever you may be. You can doit from your office, home, swimming pool or from wherever you want todo it. You can also see that the average price of works being bid onover the net is going up.
MA: What is your favorite work in your own collection?
De Pury:The last piece that I acquire is always my favorite piece. I sufferfrom the same disease our clients suffer from; collecting is abeautiful disease and also totally incurable! I recently bought somework by two American artists that work together, Wade Brighton andKelly Walker. I’m very fond of their work, both as individual artistsand as collaborators. It’s your last purchase which is always the mostexciting!
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