Phillips’ fall auction season in London includes a sale focused on clay and ceramics, “Shape & Space: A New Ceramic Presence.” Taking place on October 4, the sale is the first international auction of its kind including pieces by international contemporary and postwar artists.
Ahead of the sale, we spoke with Phillips’s CEO, Edward Dolman. He’s been at its helm for the past four years, overseeing a wildly successful expansion into other collectible departments like watches, it really has become that viable third option.
Dolman knows auctions. He was at Christie’s for 27 years before working for the Qatar Museum Authority on developing a cultural center. But the draw of the sales pulled him back in, and he started at Phillips in 2014.
Whitewaller spoke with Dolman about growing Phillips’s market presence, and why a focus on contemporary is appealing for clients.
WHITEWALLER: What ultimately made you want to come back to an auction house?
EDWARD DOLMAN: I was drawn back because it’s an industry I love, and Phillips in particular held a huge amount of appeal for me. I could always see the potential in the building up of a more focused third auction house to compete with Christie’s and Sotheby’s. I wanted to give it a really good try to see whether we could make it work.
I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made to date because I think we’ve seen significant steps forward over the last three to four years on all sorts of different levels. Our sales tables have grown, but also our presence in the market has grown. We’re now being approached by many more clients than before.
WW: You have the benefit of being more focused on contemporary art, on design, and not dozens of other historical departments.
ED: Our focus allows us to be much clearer in the objective. The whole company is geared up for selling contemporary art, basically; whether it’s 20th-century design, whether it’s editions, whether it’s photographs or contemporary art. And I think that allows us to do things which others have more difficulty with.
WW: Another place you’ve successfully expanded to is watches.
ED: If you look at the sort of contemporary luxury lifestyle area, there’s a tremendous crossover between contemporary art and people who like and collect watches. I can tell you, the first watch consignment Phillips took in was from an incredibly important contemporary art client that Phillips had no contact with at that point, but the watch brought the client to us.
More broadly, we have the best watch team and they have a global market share when it comes to selling. And that’s what we’re trying to do in each segment we operate in.
And you know, that Paul Newman Rolex Daytona that we sold for $17-plus million, it’s an iconic 20th-century moment.
WW: What do you think makes a collection truly special?
ED: The great collections that have come to market over the last few years—whether it’s
Rockefeller, Yves Saint Laurent before that—these were collectors who really knew their stuff and had access to the best advice, the best material. They became engrossed in the creation of a collection that had a theme or a vision or a focus and bought the best they could.
It’s the eye of the collector, it’s the knowledge of the collector, and it’s the focus of the collection that makes these collections really important.