Auction house Phillips de Pury & Co. tends to lean heavily toward the contemporary world, which is a lot like loading up your portfolio with small foreign stocks – it's extremely volatile. Before summer ended in 2008, this was a pretty good move, as contemporary art was skyrocketing at auction, and Phillips de Pury was there to take advantage of it. Since then, however, it's been harsh. At the May 14 and 15 contemporary sale in New York this year, the house pulled in only $10 million (compared to $62.8 million a year earlier).
To navigate the severe auction market, Phillips de Pury has decided to stick with the ultra-contemporary market, but it's restructuring, mixing contemporary art, photography and design – all of which are usually listed and sold separately.
Today's the day we'll see if it works. In London, Phillips de Pury is conducting the auction Now: Art of the 21st century. It consists of 291 mixed lots, with everything from photos to furniture. All pieces were created after 2000. There will be a wide spectrum of talent reflected in the lots, as well, with unknowns and high-profile artists like Tom Price and Candida Hoffer coming under the gavel.
Phillips de Pury has a reputation for being a bit more flexible than Sotheby's and Christie's, so breaking with tradition could help the house beat the bust and get back to the business of actually selling art at better than fire-sale prices.