Word that Phillips, the upstart auction house bankrolled by French luxury-goods billionaire Bernard Arnault, has lured Geneva-based art dealer Simon de Pury to conduct its crucial evening sales in New York this November is causing a considerable stir in the hothouse firmament of the international art world.
De Pury, the suave and formidably well connected former chairman of Sotheby’s in Europe, emerged as a star auctioneer in the mid-nineties when Sotheby’s began flying him to New York regularly to conduct its major sales. Now he is set to take up the gavel for rival Phillips’s Impressionist and Modern sale on November 6 and its contemporary-art sale on November 13, to be held at the firm’s cramped temporary auction space at the American Craft Museum on West 53rd Street.
“Simon is certainly glamorous enough to attract serious collectors to the sale room, at least to look,” notes a disgruntled Upper East Side nineteenth-and-
twentieth-century-paintings dealer. “But a lot of dealers are worried about a rival knowing all that precious information – the reserve price, the name of the seller, and who winds up taking home the art.”
Phillips officials, however, insist that De Pury will not be informed of anonymous sellers’ or buyers’ identities and point out that the Swiss power broker had no involvement in seeking consignments for the firm’s upcoming sales. Such assurances are of scant comfort to those already seething with envy at the hefty fee De Pury is said to have extracted for his upcoming efforts at the podium. “The sum I keep hearing is $2 million,” says a leading Upper East Side art consultant. “Not bad for a few hours’ work.”