Collecting Design: The Legends – with Simon de-Pury

“Simon is an extraordinary dealer, impresario, talent spotter, and auctioneer—arguably the best of all time—who has put together some of the world’s greatest collections over the last 40 years. Our joint admiration of Ron Arad led him to put together the gorgeous exhibition at Newlands House, which is one of Ron’s greatest exhibitions ever. Simon’s legacy will last a very long time.”

Ben Brown

Everyone agrees that Simon de Pury is the world’s most celebrated auctioneer, one who reinvented and reinvigorated the tradition. When he conducts an auction, when he is at the podium, it is always the best show in town. He’s earned his moniker “the Mick Jagger of Auctions.” Opening the spring edition of my Collecting Design: The Legends program with this deeply knowledgeable and inspiring expert was a true blessing. Drawing on four decades of leadership in the art world, he shared with us his unique insights into what really matters when it comes to collecting design.

My conversation with de Pury centered on the work of four blue chip contemporary designers—Ron AradMarc NewsonMattia Bonetti, and the Campana Brothers—whose consistently on-the-pulse work can be found in important museums and private collections around the world. All four studios launched in the 1980s and helped to catalyze the birth of the collectible design market through strikingly similar career paths. Each began by crafting objects by hand, working as visionary, iconoclastic artisans who created dazzling objects in familiar materials like metal, fabric, plastic, and found objects. Their careers all found traction at a time when excitement was lacking in the arena of furniture design, which was overwhelmingly industrially produced and sold through mass market outlets in the late 20th century. As each approached the new millennium, their methods of production became more sophisticated, more connected to technological innovations, and their pieces came to be sold in galleries and at international fairs, just like art. By now, they have firmly secured their places in the pantheon of design history.

To de Pury, there is no major difference between furniture and objects created by artists and those by designers. He knows both well; he lives with both and appreciates innovative techniques, groundbreaking material experimentations, and intriguing narratives in all forms. His taste is extremely educated and defined, and he has a special fondness for design that is playful with a touch of Pop. The secret to creating a good collection, he told us, is to “mix high and low.”

de Pury has had a profound influence on the design world by propelling the careers of many of today’s most successful designers. British design star Thomas Heatherwick told me, “Simon is an enthusiastic muse, who inspires designers like me to try even harder to make meaningful projects.” As the Artistic Director of the newly-opened Newlands House Gallery, located in an 18th-century Georgian townhouse in Petworth, UK, de-Pury curated the two inaugural exhibitions. The first, Helmut Newton 100, celebrated the 100th birthday of the famous German photographer who passed away in 2004; the second is the current retrospective of Israeli-born, London-based designer Ron Arad, entitled Ron Arad 69 in reference to Arad’s current age. The latter, on view until March, consists of pieces from private collections, including his own.

When de Pury speaks about Arad, you feel the spark of the admiration he has for the designer’s entire oeuvre, from the very beginning in the early ’80s, when Arad created his iconic Rover Chair, to now. de Pury enthused about Arad’s recent series of chairs that celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday. The last piece in that series is Now What, also known as the Brexit Chair. As a marker of the historic moment, the chair is clad with newspaper print from January 31, 2020, documenting the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union; the word “goodbye” appears in 27 European languages.

What I found most fascinating and refreshing about de Pury is the way he expresses his appreciation for design so naturally, identifying and articulating quality without effort. It’s such a pleasure to be in his audience. The reason for this can be gleaned from the designers he supports. “There is no doubt that Simon is at the top of the game in the world of auctioneering,” Arad once told me. “But when you get to know him, you discover his immense passion and amazing curiosity about art and design.”

Humberto Campana offered a similar perspective: “Simon reinvented the art of the auctioneering by introducing a vibrant approach to a field that was restrained and unemotional. Thanks to his charisma, he became a reference to us all and a performance artist in his own right.”

Above: What Now (Brexit Chair) by Ron Arad, 2020, on view at Newlands House Gallery. Photo © Newlands House Gallery.

Simon de Pury. Photo © Gary Morrisroe
Thick Vac by Ron Arad for Gallery Mourmans, 2006. Photo © Erik and Petra Hesmerg
Table by Mattia Bonetti for Kasmin Gallery, 2011. Photo © Kasmin Gallery
Pirarucu Armchair by the Campana Brothers for Carpenters Workshop Gallery, 2015. Photo © Carpenters Workshop Gallery
Bucket by Ron Arad for Venini, 2020. Photo © Newlands House Gallery

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