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My Cultural Life: Simon de Pury

The veteran gallerist, auctioneer and DJ on what he’s reading, listening to and more

simon de pury
Elizabeth Zeschin

Swiss auctioneer, art dealer, photographer and sometime DJ Simon de Pury is a seismic force in the art world, as well known for his stints behind the decks as his performances on the auction podium. After 50 years in the business and seeking an alternative to ‘blockbuster shows in big museums’, he was sufficiently charmed by pretty Petworth in West Sussex to become the inaugural art director of its Newlands House Gallery. His second curation effort is introspective ‘Ron Arad 69’, which will stage the designer and artist’s striking works in the unlikely context of a historic townhouse. From 18 September to 7 January 2021. newlandshouse.gallery

My career in the art world began with an apprenticeship at Galerie Kornfeld in Bern, Switzerland, an auction house and gallery specialising in prints and drawings. I did everything from cataloguing art works, framing them, holding them during the auctions, packing them afterwards and cleaning the galleries.

The first piece of art I ever bought was a painting by Erik Bulatov that translates from Russian as ‘Do not lean out of the window’. It ended up with my first wife, but I was happy when, years later, she asked me to sell it on her behalf. It made a record price for the artist.

simon de pury
’Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ by Gustav Klimt
Alamy Stock Photo

My most-loved gallery is the Neue Galerie in New York. Its works on paper by Egon Schiele are to die for, though its ultimate masterpiece is the Portrait of Adele Bloch- Bauer I, which, in my opinion, is Klimt’s very best work.

My favourite exhibition of the last five years was Jean-Michel Basquiat at New York’s Brant Foundation in 2019. The selection, presentation and the overall quality of the works was simply breathtaking.

Bar art, I collect experiences (one of the few advantages of ageing), superstitions (every time someone tells me about one I didn’t already know, I add it to my list) and children – I’m blessed to have five. In material terms, I collect plastic dinosaurs and ceramic mugs in the shape of cartoon characters.

At the moment, I’m listening to some of the tracks currently popular on TikTok, such as Lottery (Renegade) by K Camp. My nine-year-old daughter introduced me to the platform.

simon de pury
Macmillan Publishers

I’m currently reading Me by Elton John. What he has achieved as a musician, entertainer, collector and philanthropist is nothing short of phenomenal.

My favourite film is Blow-Up by director Michelangelo Antonioni. David Hemmings as a fashion photographer based on David Bailey, the acting of Vanessa Redgrave, an early appearance by Jane Birkin and the soundtrack by Herbie Hancock… It’s the quintessential 1960s movie, but it’s aged well.

If I had a free day in London, I’d begin by visiting The National Gallery, which you can never see often enough, before walking all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral and across to Tate Modern. After viewing an exhibition there, I’d head to Mayfair, and – assuming it was a summer evening – sit on a bench in Mount Street Gardens. While one of the smallest, it’s one of the capital’s most enchanting gardens.

simon de pury
Mount Street Gardens, Mayfair
Nicole Cubbidge / Alamy Stock Photo

My favourite place in the world is our farm in the Val-de-Travers in Switzerland, where my nomadic family gets together once a year. It’s extremely austere – the least touristy place you can imagine. Time there is spent with discussions near the fire, board games and hikes in the fields.

I have been active in the art world for nearly 50 years, but I always say to myself that the best is yet to come! That is the only way I stay focused and motivated. Even a veteran like me still has dreams. These are important as they are the prelude to action.

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration October 2020

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