Portfolio Takes A Poke at de Pury

Photograph by: Lorenzo Agius

Say what you want about Phillips de Pury, that seems to be the message of Andrew Goldstein’s story in Portfolio on the upstart auction house’s struggle to survive:

“Of all the auction houses, they have been the most vulgar,” says Tim Blum, co-owner of the Los Angeles-based Blum & Poe gallery, which represents many artists—including Takashi Murakami—who have sold works through Phillips. “They postured themselves as hip and of-the-moment and smarter than anybody else.”

Goldstein backs up his point of view with some numbers and few comments claiming the house has descended into gallows humor:

A year ago, when customers began delaying their payments to the auction house, de Pury discontinued his practice of offering guarantees. That move, in turn, reduced both the number of consigners and the quality of lots Phillips attracts. Last fall’s sales were disastrous, and close to half of the house’s lots didn’t sell. To boost those sales percentages at the major contemporary art evening auction in February, the house offered just 53 works, compared to 211 the year before. Of those 53 works, 18 failed to sell, despite an energetically cajoling performance by de Pury. The $6 million in receipts far undershot last year’s $42.8 million take for the same sale. Most recently, March’s Under the Influence sale—an auction offering work by emerging artists at reasonable prices—eked out only a modest return of $1.6 million in New York. [ . . . ] said art advisor Allan Schwartzman. “They’re going to have to be very clever to adapt to this market if they’re going to survive. For the longest time there really wasn’t a place for a third auction house in this market.” An atmosphere of “gallows humor,” as one longtime buyer put it, has descended at Phillips.

Going Once, Going Twice . . . Gone? (Portfolio)