Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Simon de Pury interview for House Seven

Here's a copy of the interview I did with art auctioneer supremo Simon de Pury last week, when I was out in Miami for Art Basel Miami Beach. I've uploaded it here as House Seven, the site I wrote the piece for, is only accessible to members of the Soho House Group. And I know most of you think I just swan around at art events getting tipsy on the free booze. But here's the proof that sometimes I actually do a little bit of work. And there will be a more comprehensive piece on the art fair itself on RWD's website soon.


Soho House Berlin member Simon de Pury is Chairman and Chief Auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Company. House Seven caught up with him in Miami to talk about art fairs and the frictions between galleries and auction houses.

What did you think of the 2011 Art Basel Miami Beach?
The quality is very, very, good and everything surrounding it makes it very agreeable for collectors and art lovers to come to Miami. Mostly because the local collectors, the Rubells or the de la Cruzs or the Bramans, are so open about welcoming everybody to their houses each year. They make a great effort of showing something really worthwhile that in itself makes the trip to Miami worthwhile. The only danger is that it can become a victim of its own success; there is just so much going on, so many events happening simultaneously. For every hour of the day you have to pick between 10 different possibilities and whenever you have a saturation of things to do, it can be a problem.

What made you choose Soho Beach House for the Phillips de Pury party?
Well Soho House is a great venue and I love the Cecconi’s restaurant in the garden space. Also, it’s a relatively new place in Miami so it was fun to do it there. We had a seated dinner – trying to pull that off with the notoriously undisciplined art crowd is quite a challenge in itself! We were around 80 people over capacity, but somehow it all worked out and was terrific.

So what’s your favourite art fair?
I was born in Basel and I have been to every single Art Basel so I have a particular sentimental involvement with that fair. I like it because you find the best of the classic works as well as the best of the young emerging artists. But there’s so much happening and if you’re in the business, you have to follow it all in the same way that you have to follow all the biennials, and all the auctions happening everywhere.

Won’t this lead to a time clash for various art fairs?
The art market is a travelling circus that sets up its tent every week in a different place. But you can’t do it all, so it’s a competitive situation between art fairs. You have some fairs that really grow and develop and some fairs that may be temporarily less important and create less of an impact but everything evolves constantly.

Auction houses are participating more in art fairs, making some of the galleries nervous. What are your thoughts on the tensions between the two?
The primary market needs the secondary market, the secondary market needs the primary market, the auctions need the galleries, the galleries needs the auctions, everybody needs everybody, and it’s a false debate to say auctions versus galleries because whenever you sell a work privately, the only way you can justify the price is by similar works that were sold publically at auction. You need that public barometer. During Frieze, you have great contemporary auctions taking place during the same week. So the bigger the magnet is for what’s happening in a given week at a given place, the better it is for all the participants.

And lastly, you also DJ – do you need similar skills to that of an auctioneer?
I find it very similar because in most cases you want to be attuned to the wavelength, same wavelength as your audience, and to create excitement. And so if you’re a good auctioneer you’ll create excitement in the sales room and so obtain good high prices, and if you’re a good DJ, you equally try to create excitement on the dance floor and achieve getting people dancing. While I play a bit of current house music, I love to mix it up with dance tracks from any period and occasionally bring in something totally unexpected like a piece of yodelling or swing from the 1920s, trying to surprise the audience, but still getting them on the dance floor.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

How to bag an art boy

It’s been a big week for the London art scene. Frieze Art Fair was on, as well as at least five satellite art fairs, plus loads of galleries hosting events of their own to tie in with all the arty goings on. There were a lot of people about…and a lot of men in particular.

Having failed to secure some eligible prospects at the nerdfest that was Tweetcamp last week, I thought I’d turn my attention to arty boys. These wouldn’t necessarily have to be artists, but anyone who worked in the art industry. And I felt my odds were good, as in the past I’ve dated more artists than nerds (as well as one artist nerd just to keep things interesting).

I was chatting with Dscreet about this last Wednesday, and asked him what he thought I could do to improve my chances. He said: “Make sure you dress slutty, art dudes love that…mix business with pleasure, it’s a sure fire combination.” I then spent the following day reflecting on his advice, and was unsure whether I should throw my hands up in despair, or if this was simply his warped perspective, and the answer should have been "try striking up a conversation about Nietzsche's influence on contemporary artists" or something a tad more erudite like that.

So I decided to put my question to the floor. I emailed about 40 arty people I know and also put the question to my Twitter followers, asking what their top tip would be for me personally to bag an art boy. The responses were varied, and more than one concurred that slutty dressing was the way forward. I didn’t get to put that clothing tip to the test as walking around an art fair for five hours is best done in flat shoes, but perhaps I’ll give it a shot in the not so distant future. And one artist offered to take me out. So who knows? Maybe I’ll get to wear those stilettos sooner than I think…

Here are their responses in the order they were received. Feel free to add your own advice in the comments section below.

Inkie (artist): “Show an interest in his work and a knowledge of other artists. Plus being creative would help. Slutty dressing is a bonus ;-)”

Samantha Haynes (artist): “I'd say the harder you try the less they'll be interested – surely the 'boy' bit comes before the art every time. I do slightly fear that there might be something in the slutty approach. Maybe more sadomasochist than slut – stronger aesthetic potential ...”

Stephen Davids (artist): “Bag a man not some dumb ass boy :O)”

Oliver Goodrich (photographer & filmmaker): “I think you need to be more specific – are you looking for an artist, or just someone involved/working in Art/The Arts? If it's an artist you are looking for – do you want a trophy artboy (rich, successful, handsome etc.) or a genuine artist (poor, struggling, inspired, inspiring, charismatic etc.), or are you ambitious/naive enough to hope to find the elusive Artist Prince (rich, successful, handsome, inspired, inspiring, charismatic)?”

Adil Dara Kim (graphic designer): “Be yourself!”

Pure Evil (artist): “Make really cool art... art boys love an arty girl”

Anne Lander (graphic designer): “Start wearing flannel? Talk about the transient nature of all things?”

Paul Slee (artist): “Not so sure about dressing slutty, maybe that’s just easy solutions, most artists have, I’d guess, rich imaginations, so let them do all the imagining and fantasising. Dress sober, neutral, plain but tasteful, as if you could be anything (create more options and widen your horizon), and possibly even could be connected to a huge scoop of wealthy art loving relations, (but remember most artists are prob more interested in themselves than in you).
Pretend to be a white canvas, ready to be painted on, mention as little about yourself as possible, act evasive on all direct, historical, questions, but show your interest in the opinions and mutterings of the artist in question. So good luck, and remember not all art boys are worth bagging, some you might rather trash on the spot and leave for stray garbage.”

Andy Edwards (filmmaker): “Art boys are looking for a muse. That involves being interesting (i.e. crazy) and yeah, being slutty. I think you may well be too interested in personal hygiene for the typical art boys, if I were you I'd go for the art dealers/collectors/curators. An ability to talk crap about art and look good whilst quaffing free champagne is all that's required here and I think that's where you'll shine.”

Ben Street (Sluice Art Fair Founder): “All art boys worth their salt are to be found at Sluice.”

Remi Rough (artist): “1. Assuming you've set your sights on one 'Art boy' in particular: Purchase a piece from said 'Art boy'. Nothing major, a small work on paper or a print. Feign interest in his process and methodology and speak with as highbrow and art tongue as you possibly can. This is a big turn on for 'Art boys' in general. Always turn up extremely late to any shows, he is part of or in and try and gauge what colour he wears most. Then coordinate your shoes to colour match his clothing (I realise this is quite a difficult task). But if you succeed...you're in!
2. Assuming any 'Art boy is adequate and none are a particular target: Be seen to be purchasing art and enjoying it for its aesthetic value only! Never discuss the worth of any art in front of any 'Art boys' and definitely never critique an artist’s work. If it's a group show, feel free to slag off the other artists in the show and stroke the 'Art boy's' egos with your silky smooth words. Lastly 'Art boys' have a tendency to dress like total scruff bags, but you should tell them how dapper and 'Arty' they look. If these two top tips don't bag you an 'Art boy' then I'm a Monkey's uncle.”

Adrienne Cooper (photographer): “It's not really my area of expertise. I'm struggling to get past stereotypes of arty boys. However, based on those stereotypes, I'd say it's about building their confidence (if they make art) and being encouraging...and dressing like a bit of a slut. But in an arty way. For some reason I'm getting visions of a 1990s Catherine Keener.”

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Riding on trains

I feel like I’ve done quite a lot of riding on trains in the past few months. It’s always a pleasant experience – an opportunity to read your book, do some writing, or just gaze out the window, letting your mind go for a walk. And it is lovely outside at the moment. Lush and green. Of course, the flipside to that is that it can only look like this when it’s been raining every day for the past two months. Which it has been. Bloody British weather. Not that it’s any worse than the bloody Irish weather from which I fled 12 years ago.

But yes. Train travel. Relatively civilised in this country when the system isn’t fucked (as it regularly is with engineering works, leaves on the line, heat on the line, snow on the line, the list goes on ad infinitum), yet also quite sterilised.

The carriage I’m now sitting in is clean, which is obviously a good thing. It is also so heavily air-conditioned that one hour into my journey and I still haven’t been able to remove my coat. The toilets – well – they’re not so clean. I gave serious consideration to writing a note on the back wall: “Gentlemen. This is a unisex toilet. Apparently you are unable to aim straight while on a moving train so please sit the fuck down when you pee. Thank you and good day.” Unfortunately I didn’t have any permanent markers with me. And now I have wet shoes. Buggeration.

However, despite all of this, one of my favourite train journeys was a rough and ready jaunt from Bentota to Colombo. The two hour journey along the west coast of Sri Lanka was captivating for good and bad reasons. The guide book recommended first class tickets, but the train only had second and third class carriages, so we opted for a second class ticket priced around 50p (put that in your pipe and smoke it British rail companies). Travelling with my friend Susan, we managed to bag a pair of seats together. We then swopped seats every five minutes, no doubt to the amusement of the other passengers. There was no glass in the window so you were hit with the full force of the wind. However, there was no air-conditioning on the train, just a weak rusty ceiling fan, so when you sat in the aisle seat, you barely avoided drowning in your self-made pools of sweat. Hence the need for constant seat-swopping. And we were sharing the view I guess…

People bustled up and down the train, selling dried peppers as snack foods and other exotic items displayed on huge circular wicker trays. Sadly it was my first trip to Asia and in those days I was a bit of a wimp when it came to sampling local street food...or train food as the case may have been.

Everyone stared at us. We were the only whiteys on the train. But it was never in a malevolent way. The people we met during our time there were friendly and those who were from the less touristy areas were simply curious. (The group shot was a family who wanted to have their photo taken with me. Now I know what it feels like to be a celebrity!) And everyone was thankful, which felt strange. I have never travelled anywhere before where I have been thanked so much by so many people.

And the reason for it? Six months previously, Sri Lanka had been devastated by the tsunami that occurred on Boxing Day in 2004. The people we met wanted to thank us for the financial aid that our countries had given as a result of people making individual donations. Their message was that we should tell people about their country.

Tourism is such a key economic factor and provides income for so many people that the tsunami was a double-blow to their country. Not only had they lost people, homes and buildings, but many had lost their jobs. Everyone asked if we would tell our friends about their country. Did we like it? Would we come back? Would we recommend it to people? Yes, yes and yes.

And this is what made the train journey so captivating yet haunting. On one side was the magnificent coastline, while on the other side were thousands of temporary shelters, made from tarpaulin draped over frames constructed from palm trees. And when you gazed further inland, you could see the remnants of these people’s homes, scattered into disarray.

So that is why that train journey in Sri Lanka will always be etched in my memory and why Sri Lanka itself will always be in my heart.

Friday, 8 July 2011

I met a different him on a different subway

London. The tube. Saturday afternoon. Not rush hour, but busy nonetheless. I was running late. Well...not necessarily. I reckoned that if I could quickly get through the barriers, run down the escalators, hop on a train that was just pulling into the station, run through the interchange station and get on the second train straightaway, then get off that train, walk up two sets of escalators and head straight out of the station, then I might only be five minutes late. Which is totally acceptable in my book. I just needed a clear route with nothing to slow me down.

But, this is London, awash with fucking foreigners. Having lived here for 12 years, I no longer consider myself to be a fucking foreigner – I am a native. And so I set off on my mission impossible.

Sidestepping the prams, I breezed through the ticket barriers and strode along the corridor to the escalators. This was going to be a breeze. I aimed for the left-hand side, planning to jog down the steps. Ten steps down there was a problem. It was a fucking foreigner and even worse, they had a suitcase. And worse again, they had placed it beside them. No, no, no, no, no, I said inwardly, recalling Ben Kingsley’s character in Sexy Beast. Best escalator/suitcase practice dictates that you should always place your suitcase on the step behind you and not on the step beside you. Now I was blocked in. I eventually got the woman to move her bag but I had now wasted valuable time.

I saw people swarming near the base of the up-escalator. Shit. The train was here. Maybe I could still make it. I ran down the remaining steps, projecting myself through the slow-moving arriving passengers and charged for the train. The doors beeped, then closed, and I was still on the platform.

Shit. Maybe they would open again. Sometimes that happens. I looked up and gazed into the carriage. And there he was. My evil ex. Our eyes met, his widening with recognition, mine narrowing with hatred.

The train pulled out of the station.
I had missed it.
But for once I didn’t care that I had to wait an additional six minutes for the next train.
I had been saved.
By a fucking foreigner.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Searching for my Miss World crown…

I love that beauty pageants always ask the girls what they would do if they ruled the world. End poverty, end AIDS, end hunger, it’s always the same ole story with these lasses. I reckon I could be a strong contender for the title of Miss World because I have the best answer.

I would put an end to self-aggrandising job titles. Having seen CVs from business school alumni, who claim to have been the Senior Vice-President of Marketing for their volleyball team, and meeting consultants who are Associate Partners only to be told “it’s not that important, there are thousands of us in the firm”, I believe we have entered an age where job titles have become meaningless.

I propose that everyone in management should have their old title deleted and we’ll start again from scratch. If your company has 1-20 employees, then the top job can be Managing Director, 1-100 and you can have a CEO, 1-1,000 – a President. More than 1,000, you can throw some Vice-Presidents into the mix and if you have over 10,000 staff, you can probably sub-divide them by adding in some Senior VPs and maybe some Associates too. If your company has more than 100,000, then perhaps a couple of partners (not too many though).

If you have over a million staff (and yes, amazingly these companies do exist), then the big boss can have the title Lord and Master, just as long as he (for it is usually a he) doesn’t actually believe that he’s personally managing his employee base in any kind of meaningful way.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with these people. But to be honest, if your company is the size of a small country and you’ve worked that hard to get to the top, then you should enjoy the opportunity to kick back with a large whiskey. Because isn’t that what it’s really all about?

Friday, 17 June 2011

Craft(ivist) Work

Howdy all.
Here is another article from the archives. Last year I interviewed the lovely Sarah Corbett, who runs the Craftivist Collective, for House magazine. House is a quarterly magazine, which goes to members of the Soho House group. If you can't read the text clearly in the picture above, then you can access the entire magazine here.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Dots the Film

Last October I wrote in RWD magazine about a new graffiti documentary coming your way. And then, I forgot to post it on my blog. Doh! So here is the article with a link to three of the sections that are now available to view on Babelgum. Check out James Jessop, Rowdy and Cyclops as they cover New York, Australia and India and the power of street art.

The Dance of Attraction

Zzzappp. There it is. That spark of attraction. It hits you the first time you spot him. You glance at him, quickly scanning him up and down, checking for any flaws or imperfections that might cause you to think twice, but nothing catches your eye in a negative way.

Your eyes meet. You smile.

If he smiles back, you raise your eyes to meet his again. If not, you let your brain move to the next thing on your agenda for the day.

But he does smile back. So now you want to properly take him in, but it would be too obvious now to let your eyes lazily wander across his body. So you allow your gaze to occasionally dart in various directions, trying to piece each snapshot into one cohesive picture, while maintaining eye contact.

He introduces himself. This is your one big shot. Within, your internal organs breathe a sigh of relief while simultaneously tensing at the prospect of you messing this up when you open your mouth.

For oh, tis a merry dance we dance.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Close encounters of the New York kind - part 2

I open one eye. Then close it. Then open the other one.
Where am I?
Oh yes, on my friend’s sofa-bed in New York.
What time is it?
Nine-ish. Sunday. Hmm. What shall I do with my day?
Hang on a minute.
I’ve made a plan. I was supposed to meet the Brooklyn hipster at midday at a gallery.
Maybe he was drunk when he agreed to do this. Should I text him to double-check the plan is still on?
Maybe in a bit.
Had a bit to drink last night, so should probably have some water, as I might be a tad dehydrated.
I unzip the sleeping bag and stagger over to the sink. I swig some water and stagger back to the sofa.

That doesn’t feel good.
No, that really doesn’t feel...shit...run...
Well there goes that intake of water.
Oh my god, my head is pounding!
Maybe I should drink some juice instead and take an ibuprofen. Then I’ll have a nap for an hour, get up and go out to meet this guy. After I’ve double-checked that he remembers who the hell I am.
Oh...oh no...quick!
If only I had topical ibuprofen as I don’t seem to be currently capable of retaining anything in my stomach for more than two minutes.
This is not good.
How can I get rid of this blasted headache?

Ok, I’ll text him. He’ll reply, saying he wants to cancel, and then I’m off the hook, and I can resume talking to god on the big white telephone.
And maybe sleep for a bit too.
He replies.
We’re still on for midday.

A shower. A shower will make me feel better. And more human. And less nauseous.
Unfortunately, this proves not to be the case.
My friend laughs when I tell her I’m off to meet a guy in my pitiful state.

“It’s fine,” I tell her. “I’ll just put an emergency plastic bag in my handbag.”
“Emergency plastic bag?”
“Yes. In case I need to be sick again.”
“Nice one Holly.”
I quickly find a bag capable of suffocating a small child, i.e. one without safety holes in the bottom, or leakage holes, as I prefer to call them, and stuff it into the depths of my handbag. Just, y’know, in case...

I rule out taking the subway (being trapped in a tunnel when you need to vom is not a good look) and plump for a cab.
At least I can jump out in an emergency.
Or wind down a window at the very least.
Half way into the cab journey and I’ve already wound the window down.
Only for the breeze of course.
I barely make it to the gallery bathrooms in time.
And sadly, in the States, toilet cubicles are not very private.
Oh well.
Maybe people will think I have morning sickness and will feel sorry for me.
No, I think I’d rather people thought that I was hungover than pregnant.
Do I look fat?

The hipster shows up.
I feel rough.
He claims he also feels rough.
I reckon I can win the “who feels the roughest” contest, but decide that this may not be a competition I want to win. Or at least brag about winning.
I then feel compelled to tell him that if I suddenly run off, fear not, I’m not abandoning him, I’m just going to be sick.
God. I disgust myself at times.
Thankfully I don’t end up running off.
Of course, this means that I shared that information for nothing.

We move listlessly through the museum, which turns out to be a bit like the Wallace Collection in London. I highly recommend that you do not visit this place hungover. It won’t help you and frankly, you won’t help it.

We headed out into the fresh air and walked across to Central Park.
Walking through the park, we saw a number of tents.
Ooo. What’s that? Is there a festival on?
No, it looks more like a marathon.
It’s the Colon Cancer Challenge 15km run.
Seems to be over, thank god.
Don’t think I could bear to be surrounded by sweaty healthy jogger types. That would be too much to bear.
But look. What’s that?
A blow-up tunnel.

The hipster suggests we walk through it. We get closer. It appears to be a colon.
A giant, infected, inflatable colon.
I’m instantly impressed that he also thinks that it would be funny to walk through this.
Although as soon as we start looking at the inflatable growths on the inflatable colon, my stomach starts doing flip-flop manoeuvres. I indicate that I’ve probably seen enough and we head back into the sunshine.

And I don’t get sick.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Close encounters of the New York kind - part 1

I met him on the subway.
Well not really on the subway, on the platform to be precise. He was walking along with some friends and I asked them where the interchange was. They pointed me towards the end of the platform and that was that.
In typical New York style, the change between subway lines proved less easy than it looked. After exiting the station, I walked three blocks (get me, with my Noo Yoik lingo) to the interchange station, only to be told that I didn’t have the right type of ticket to change lines (?) and that I needed to buy a new one. “That’s the spirit”, I thought to myself, “Fuck over the tourists who are spending money in your city.” This was the brown-icing on the shit-cake of a day I was having. As I headed to the ticket machine, I saw him again with his friends, entering the station. We smiled as we passed each other.
After much faffing on my part, I finally got myself to the Guggenheim, joining the snaking queue of canny people who know the times different museums offer ‘pay what you wish’ deals. (I had hit up MOMA the night before.) As I drifted along in my line, I saw him again. “You made it!” he called across. His friends looked puzzled, wondering who the hell he was talking to. “It’s the girl from the subway.” I waved and carried on.
From the top floor of the spiraled gallery, I looked down to survey the building design and the weaving crowds of ant-like people making their way around the space. And then, I saw him again, just one floor down. And with that, he looked up and saw me too.
I waved.
He waved.
This was now incredibly embarrassing and a tad corny. But it was also kind of cool, because it was the kind of thing that happens in a really predictable rom-com yet never happens in real life. Until now. (It’s best to not read those last two lines in a cheesy movie trailer voice-over style. Thanks.)
I strolled down to meet him. We started talking. I gave him my sob-story (the friend I was staying with had been struck down with flu-like symptoms and was confined to bed, so I could either stay in her flat weeping or roam the city alone. I chose loner option no.2). He replied with “Well we’re just hanging if you want to hang out with us” (or another Americanism to that effect), and I said “Sure, if that’s ok with you”, and then he introduced me to his friends.
So then we hung out in Brooklyn. And drank...quite a lot actually but more on that later...and then, and then, and then...at the end of the evening he walked me to a cab and offered to meet at the Frick Museum the following day at midday, so I wouldn’t have to spend Sunday in New York on my lonesome. And with that, I sped back to Manhattan.
To be continued...