Simon de Pury: Who are you?

Two decisive hours in Central Park.
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TRANSCRIPT

Simon de Pury: Simon de Pury, Chairman of Phillips de Pury & Company. My family comes from New Chatel in the French part of Switzerland, but I actually grew up in ... in the German part of Switzerland. And that definitely had an influence on my very early interest for the arts, because ...is a city which has fantastic museums; has a great art fair which is the main art fair for modern and contemporary art in the world; and also had great dealers like Mr. ... who is worldwide one of the leading art dealers in the world. I guess like every child you’re very much influenced by your parents. My father was working for the pharmaceutical industry. He was working for Hoffman-La Rouche, the pharmaceutical giant. And he was for many years in Japan and ran Hoffman-La Rouche in Japan. And these 10 years that my parents lived in Japan had a great influence on their life. My mother spoke fluent Japanese, and she was a teacher in Japanese flower arrangements – ikebana. And so both had a vivid interest in the arts. And from small onwards they took me to museums, galleries. And so in that sense they had a great influence on my passions. Early on my dream was to become an artist. And so I was drawing a lot, painting a lot, doing photography. And when I finished high school I went to Japan myself – to Tokyo, and I studied at the Academy of Arts . . . Tokyo Academy for Arts, the .... I studied the Japanese brush painting technique ...; and also ...which is a technique using mineral colors. So I took private courses at the Academy, and I saw hundreds of other artists who all felt they were great, great artists, which I felt I was. And so that was quite a sobering discovery to see there were hundreds of thousands of people thinking the same way. And on my way back to Switzerland from Japan, because I had to go back to do my military service, I stopped through New York and I went to visit the three largest galleries in New York. I didn’t know which were the three largest commercial galleries, and I bought the New York Times and thought I’m going to show my work to the ones that have the largest ads. And so I went with my little portfolio under my arm and knocked at the first gallery, which was ... Gallery, and I asked, “Can I speak to Mr. ...?” And they laughed at me. They said, “There is no Mr. ....” And five minutes later I was back in the street. The second gallery I went to was the Castelli Gallery. The legendary Leo Castelli was one of the most important dealers of the 20th century. He was not there, but a director there said to me, “Listen. We’re only dealing in American art,” and so three minutes later I was back in the street. And in the third gallery there was a lovely secretary there who said, “Mr. Such and Such is not there at the moment. But why don’t you leave me your work and I will show it to him. Come back in two hours.” So I went to Central Park and I saw these were the two most decisive hours of my life. Either they take me and I will become an artist. If they don’t I go back to Switzerland and I study law. And I went back after my walk in Central Park, and the lovely secretary said, “Mr. Such and Such adored your work” – I already had shaky knees – “but it’s not exactly the kind of art we’re dealing in.” So that was the end of my career as an artist. I told my parents that I had decided to study law. So then I went to study law, and after three weeks I thought, “No, that’s too awful for words. It’s so dry, so boring.” And so I thought the best thing after that is to go into the art world. And so I consulted with some art historians, some art dealers. I consulted with ..., and he told me how to go about entering the art world. And so I followed his advice very closely, and from the first day onwards I never looked back. I mean I knew this was it. Recorded on: 2/7/08