Well, it’s official. An article in April’s “Maine Antiques Digest” announced that Bob Langmuir had reached an out of court settlement with Bayo Ogunsanya over his purchase of the Arbus/Hubert’s archive. Nobody was allowed to talk specifics, but Bayo intimated there had been cash up front and the promise of a cut of future sales of the archive. In return, Bob has clear title to the material. Regarding the Arbus photographs Bayo told the MAD reporter, “Hopefully, he will be selling them for as much as he can get and soon too.”
As you may recall, Phillips was set to auction the archive last April only to cancel the sale under a cloud of mystery. This seemingly flew in the face of the contract they’d made with Bob, giving him a substantial advance, and guaranteeing him a large sum from the sale of the archive. Now Bob is free to re-examine this issue with Phillips de Pury.
But, as with everything else in this wonderful story, the Phillips situation has gotten more complicated. Joseph Kraeutler - the “photography expert” who took on the archive and who, presumably, committed Phillips to the hefty guarantee they made Bob – has left the gallery, so he won’t be around to negotiate. Charlie Scheips is still there, but after his “mystery buyer” for the archive failed to surface, he may have fewer bargaining chips. Then, last winter, Phillips de Pury was purchased by Mercury Group - a high-end retail operation selling luxury brands out of Moscow. Will Bob be negotiating with Russian tough guys who never heard of Diane Arbus?
Perhaps, but there’s more. A recent article in Conde Nast’s “Portfolio.com” (http://www.portfolio.com/culture-lifestyle/2009/03/30/Phillips-de-Pury-Struggles) suggests that Phillips is on hard times. Their sale of hip-hop jewelry which – much like the Arbus sale – was postponed last fall in order to “accommodate strong market interest,” has now been cancelled indefinitely. Presumably “strong market interest” and “mystery buyer” are code words for “nobody gives a damn about our stuff.” The Portfolio article goes on to explain, “A year ago, when customers began delaying their payments to the auction house, de Pury discontinued his practice of offering guarantees. That move, in turn, reduced both the number of consigners and the quality of lots Phillips attracts. Last fall’s sales were disastrous, and close to half of the house’s lots didn’t sell.”
The settlement with Bob left Bayo gleefully anticipating his big payday when the Arbus stuff sells for millions. Now it sounds as if he might be in for a wait.
If you’d care to revisit the issues discussed above, the new paperback edition of HUBERT’S FREAKS has just been released and should be available at retail outlets everywhere. The book contains a new chapter updating the Bob saga, and a handsome new cover. Signed copies can be purchased on our website at hubertsfreaks.com