written by Ashley Elderidge-Ford in London
The news circulating at Frieze Art Fair that Phillips de Pury had been bought by the Russian Mercury Group was superseded somewhat by the news that Phillips has announced its exclusive international representation of the work of photographer, Annie Leibovitz. This is by no means the first time that the auction house - now defining itself as a contemporary art company - is to exhibit and sell primary market works of art but it will be the first time that an auction house has announced that it is to officially represent an artist.
Sotheby's September sales of the work of Damien Hirst was potentially the prod that inspired Phillips' move with Leibovitz. Sotheby's broke new ground in this venture by selling primary market works directly without the intervention (and commission) of a dealer. This allowed for Hirst to pocket the proceeds directly as the seller minus the auction house's commission fee. The difference in the customary artist-dealer 50% commission must have been sufficiently large to warrant Hirst jilting both of his dealers, Larry Gagosian and Jay Joplin. If nothing else, this sale - the possible last hurrah in the art market's bubble for the time being - has influenced the way in which auction houses will run their business in the future. Previously, there had been an unwritten understanding that new works of art were the commodity of dealers with a two to five year embargo before works could be sold at auction. No longer beholden to the traditional practice of secondary market dealing, auction houses can now step into the art market as primary market dealers for living artists.
This announcement by Phillips de Pury, is not as surprising as it may at first seem. It is not only these two auction houses who have taken this step. Christie's - owned by luxury retail group Artemis S.A. - expanded into the primary market by purchasing contemporary art gallery Haunch of Venison in 2007. Phillips' representation of Leibovtiz, as well as the previous moves of Sotheby's and Christie's, does beg the question as to what the future will be for galleries and dealers. Leibovitz's New York dealer, Edwynn Houk, must be wondering the same thing.