The position of outsider is an uncomfortable one. You’re neither the best nor the worst. Phillips auction house, owned by the Russian luxury-goods company Mercury Group, finds itself similarly situated. Yet since 2014 it has been led by one of the greatest experts on the global art market, Ed Dolman.

The 58-year-old British CEO, who loves the sea, radiates an unusual sense of solidity. He’s one to steer the ship through a storm, that’s for sure. He has a large build. A measured way of speaking.

He belongs to the ranks of those old school CEOs who seem to like to take their employees under their wing. This most likely explains the miraculous influx, which has been taking place for some time now, of a strike force of high-quality specialists drawn to him and therefore to Phillips, especially if we remind ourselves of the auction house’s outsider status. Robert Manley (ex-Christie’s), Cheyenne Westphal (ex-Sotheby’s), Jean Paul Engelen (ex-Qatar museums and Christie’s), Hughes Joffre (ex-Christie’s).

 

Clearly Ed Dolman is now laying all the foundations of an auction house that had previously been lacking in organization.

The former furniture specialist, who was noticed by François Pinault when he became owner of Christie’s in 1998, already proved a great deal in the course of his eleven years as CEO of Christie’s.

Yet it’s harder to understand his influence in Qatar during his three-year stint as CEO of the country’s museums from 2011. At the time Qatar was the world’s largest buyer of works of art. But the art market has never been so influenced by politics as it is today… The changing of the emir, the oil crisis, the growing power of the Qatari forces opposed to the country’s modernization… We will never know what really happened before this very British citizen, who is fervently opposed to Brexit, assumed his position at Phillips in New York.

 

In this week of sales in New York Phillips on Thursday  15 november confirms its position of focusing on 20th and 21st century art. It resembles a sort of “boutique” auction house, where you can find various little gems that are far more cherished and valued there than amid the competition of the leading  two auction houses.

Take this Pollock from 1950, which is being sold by Rio’s museum of contemporary art (our hearts go out to this country which has suffered –elections aside – the total destruction of the national museum of Rio). This is probably the only painting by the American artist in a public collection in this country. Painted in 1950 and offered to the institution by Nelson Rockefeller, it possesses an undeniable magnetism with its silvery background, animated by the dance of dripping paint. Its estimate is 18 million dollars.

In a similar spirit, last May it was Phillips who was chosen by the Basquiat foundation to sell “Flexible”, a painting on wood from 1984 by Jean Michel Basquiat.  It went for 45.3 million dollars.

 

The total estimate for the evening sale at Phillips has risen to around 100 million dollars compared with 631,8 dollars for Christie’s  (without the Ebsworth collection) and 531,6  for Sotheby’s , for the combined sales of modern and contemporary art.

But in a New York Times article from 25 october 2018 Ed Dolman said he was expecting private and public sales combined to reach 1 billion dollars’ worth of transactions for the year.

In his luxurious Park Avenue office, the head of Phillips answers some questions, sometimes a little too diplomatically, all the while looking over at his director of communication Michael Sherman.

This is the man of experience talking. In a totally changing world will the future prove him right?

 

You spent 10 years as CEO of Christie’s. What did you learn that has changed you as a businessman and as an art lover?

 

 

You were a very special advisor in Qatar. How would you describe your experience there?

 

 

Is it your aim to make Phillips the second auction house in the world?

 

 

Don’t you think there’s a kind of craziness in the art market today?

 

 

What’s your next dream?

 

 

What would you like people to remember about you?

 

 

 

All the photos are of lots that feature in the Phillips sale on Thursday 15 November in New York.

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