Colin Gleadell tries to put the Carte Blanche sale and Phillips de Pury’s move to Park Avenue in context of the company’s struggle over the last year to deal with the drop in art sales:
In the first six months of 2008, Phillips de Pury & Co hit a peak, selling some 5,700 lots for approximately £135 million. But the company was still thought to be heavily in debt, and in October, the Russian luxury goods group, Mercury, bought a controlling stake in the firm for a reported 80 million dollars. Half of that, a source told industry magazine Art and Auction, was to cover Phillips’ debts.
Then came the market downturn, and in the first six months of 2009, the number of lots offered halved, and sales plummeted to approximately £31 million. Phillips’ exposure to the downturn in contemporary art, which accounted for about 75 per cent of its sales, had left it particularly vulnerable. The question for de Pury was how to resuscitate business in 2010.
One solution has been to hold more sales, dressed up as theme sales such as Music, Film and Sex. In the first six months of this year, and in spite of a disastrous London sale in June, these have helped Phillips to increase the number of lots offered to over 4,000 and sales to some £68 million – an increase, de Pury says, of 127 per cent over last year.
But it is the higher end of the market that de Pury wants most dearly, and for which he has been thinking most creatively. In the spring he held a 21 million dollar sale of contemporary art from the Halsey Minor collection which he secured by offering Minor a share in the auctioneer’s commission.