Published: June 5, 2018
Phillips has been making headlines lately, with its 2017 cumulative sales up 25 percent from 2016, routinely increasing – and setting – in-house records for sale totals in contemporary art and prints, and a global record for a watch sale. Antiques and The Arts Weekly had the opportunity to sit down with Phillips’ CEO Edward Dolman and talk about the Phillips brand; how they have innovated; and how he wants to grow the company.
Phillips seems to have given the market a bit more energy. Do you agree and how have you managed that?
Something very special is happening at Phillips. I honestly think competition is good; it’s good for us to shake things up a bit. Phillips is consistently taking $150 million – that used to go to Christie’s and Sotheby’s – during the contemporary seasons, which has sharpened things up, and I think everybody has to start adapting what they’re offering to their clients to become more competitive. We have injected new energy because we are very focused on doing things slightly differently and doing in a slightly different way. And the spirit in which we operate and the culture of the place, its very different.
The firm is smaller, you have much fewer departments. Has this helped?
Decision making is much easier here, because when we’re discussing how we chose to position ourselves with the press, our language, how our brand looks, it’s pretty easy because we’re dealing with fewer staff, all of whom are Twentieth/Twenty-First Century oriented. There’s a commonality – everyone appreciates it and is on the same page. When the bigger places are trying to message consistently across varied departments, it gets a bit complicated. What people have in mind about Phillips and our brand – it’s contemporary, it’s lighter, it’s sharper, it’s more focused, less heavy – all things that are great for us because this is what the market and the new clients really respond to. At Phillips, the brand plays particularly well in places like Asia, where they’re slightly more fashion-oriented, newer, fresher, more fun.
I also think it’s important that Phillips has real expertise and people who love doing what they do and whose principal task is to work with clients, talk about art, evaluate art and be very good at what they do.
Phillips’ New Now sale has a market-making feel to it – it introduces new names at lower price points – something that can hook new buyers with smaller budgets. Will you apply that concept to other departments?
One of the things I’m hoping to do over the next 18 months to two years is to really reboot the jewelry department. We’re aiming to do fresher design-oriented jewelry, which represents a growing discipline and an extension of where we see the current market. There is an established relationship between collectors of contemporary jewelry, art and design, requiring understanding and appreciation of the artist as well as the confidence to own and wear important pieces. A critical component of our strategy is to create cross-marketing opportunities within Phillips, as collectors of contemporary art and design also tend to appreciate fine watches and jewelry. Contemporary jewelry represents a growing discipline and an extension of where we see the current market.
New Now is part of our DNA, and we must continue to really focus on it. It’s very important to Phillips that we still have a foothold in emerging markets and to bring through new artists to our clients.
How has the market changed?
The market is driven by a whole different set of collectors – Russian, Middle Eastern, Indian, obviously Asian. We might hope they were interested in antiques but, generally speaking, it’s not what they want. I think Phillips is perfectly adapted for that new world. There are always Twentieth Century areas that I’d like to do more in, particularly modern art. We’re now trying to focus on pushing back into the Twentieth Century, to embrace Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky. Walking around the galleries in our March Contemporary sale, you could see a consistency in the offering and the continuum of modern artistic thought.
Phillips also messages as a luxury brand, and you’ve somewhat recently started conducting watch sales. What other categories might we expect to see down the road?
Watches have been a huge success for us. We’ve examined categories that could fit into our luxury lifestyle focus, such as collectors’ cars, wine, other sorts of fine living things our clients want and are engaged by. There are areas that may be developed further along the line, but, to me, we have so much room to grow in different forms of contemporary art. For example, there is a huge opportunity for us to grow in Latin American contemporary art and African contemporary art. These would fit very nicely alongside what we do now. So these are the areas I’d like to see us develop more fully before going into more esoteric areas.
I’m quite anxious Phillips remains light, nimble and focused. We’ll grow organically in the Twentieth Century picture and design space rather than go dramatically into something else.
How does social media and technology play a part in pushing the brand forward?
It’s incredibly important. For Basquiat’s “Flexible,” which was in our most recent Twentieth Century & Contemporary sale, we introduced the first stage of a project aimed at bringing digital technology into the physical gallery space. We created a stand-alone video kiosk with multimedia content about the work, to engage gallery visitors and bring this culturally important work to life.
Do your specialists use social media?
They do. More people than ever are using social channels and mobile apps to discover, engage with and, increasingly, buy art. Our specialists have Instagram and are encouraged to embrace it. Social media – particularly marketing channels in Asia, are all incredibly important.
How is your digital saleroom innovative?
We have taken broad industry-leading steps to make bidding and buying easier. We’ve done this with high-quality audio and video on the web, then reaching across iOS and Android to mobile users all over the world with similar high-quality immersion. The differentiators for our app are the ability to leave advance bids, watch the live sale video feed and bid in real-time from mobile devices. The app-facilitated bidding has been fantastic, and it’s something our clients absolutely love.
-Madelia Hickman Ring
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