Thursday, August 12, 2010

Simon, the Shark, and the Show

As written in a prior post, I've been thoroughly engrossed in reading The $12 Million Stuffed Shark by Don Thompson. I have learned a great deal about the art world from it, and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Freakonomics (also another fantastic read).  Recently, the chapters have focused on the workings of auction houses, mainly Christie's and Sotheby's as they are the front runners in the auction world. There is another auction house mentioned, Phillips de Pury, and the author lists it as being "a distant third-ranked auction house in the Christie's-Sotheby's battle" that "guaranteed losses for a very long time". Phillips de Pury had to find a way to differentiate itself and succeed. A few days ago, I had a bit of an Aha! moment when I read this passage:

"Phillips now focuses on first-time buyers in their twenties and thirties, from the hedge-fund millionaires to rookie collectors. It wants to avoid being seen as number three....instead positioning itself as number one its own blue-chip, emerging, super-modernism segment. As part of the change, Phillips auction catalogues were re-designed to resemble fashion magazines. "   

And.... "Simon de Pury was portrayed in press releases as a sort of rock-star auctioneer."

Simon de Pury.... where do we know that name from?
Work of Art: America's Next Great Artist. It does say in his bio that he is involved with Phillips de Pury.  Simon is the mentor, the voice of reason for the artists, very much like Tim Gunn on Project Runway. He is not a judge. He is the guy who strolls in with the fantastic suit, impeccable manners, and either celebrates the works in progress or nudges the artists with words of wisdom. Simon is a genuinely likable person, and his way of being tour guide confirms to the general public that art is not a scary place, and you can have a connection with artists and their work.

I have written a few posts about Bravo's Work of Art, mainly focusing on an artist who, like me, has a brain injury. You can read them here and here, and my first thoughts on the show here*.

While I watched the final show of the season, I was entertaining the idea of writing another post about the show and the connection between de Pury and Bravo's target demographic. Having art or artists or even auction houses (besides Picasso, Monet, Christie's/Sotheby's) be a household name is .... kind of miraculous. Phillips de Pury has little to lose when it is in 88 million households. Having Simon educating and getting more people comfortable with art, artists, and ideas of art is undoubtedly a wise business strategy, and a great service to artists. Considering the common notion that auction houses, galleries, and museums are occupied by hoity toity types with entirely too much money who place an outrageous value on a painting/sculpture/whatever....Would you be more comfortable with walking into Christie's/Sotheby's or Phillips de Pury?

 During the final episode, it was announced by Simon that the winning artist of the show would have a piece auctioned at Phillips de Pury. I am interested to know what the piece will fetch, and more importantly how much interest there will be for that showing (and when, in regards to lot numbers and day vs. evening, will it be shown?).

* I have to say that while there were obvious dramas, fights, and eccentricities that were a part of the story (can't be reality without it), I was pleasantly surprised and happy with the lack of friction between the three finalists.

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