Despite being a 250-year-old global business, Phillips Auction House is far from out of touch with today’s growing and evolving art market. “By focusing on the defining aesthetic movements of the last century, we’ve set ourselves apart from the competition,” says Philae Knight, client advisory director for Phillips. In fact, Phillips is now considered by many in the industry to be the destination for international collectors to buy and sell the world’s most important contemporary and 20th-century works of art, design, jewels, watches, photographs and editions. “Over the past year in particular, it’s safe to say Phillips’ business is booming,” Knight says.
So how does Phillips ensure this kind of success in such a lively and ever-changing market? Well, it takes a village, as they say—and Phillips proudly touts its ability to aggressively recruit and hire the best of the best for every department that makes up its global team. The Phillips staff is comprised of specialists from auction houses, museums, galleries and other leading arts institutions. In addition to conducting auctions in its New York, London, Hong Kong and Geneva salerooms, it holds private sales and curated selling exhibitions around the world.
With such a vast global presence and long history of high-end auctions, you might think that places like Colorado would get lost or dismissed as an important market for this kind of business. Yet it’s just the opposite for Phillips—and this is surely due in no small part to the influence of Knight, who grew up in Colorado. The daughter of an architect father and designer mother, Knight’s passion for the arts sprouted at an early age thanks to the environment she grew up in and the people who raised her. “My dad was involved in the original LoDo design in Denver, and my grandparents were some of the key investors in Vail during the 1960s and 1970s—a time when people in Colorado were really starting to become more active in the arts and culture scene,” she says.
By the time Knight was in high school, she was active in the Denver and Colorado arts and culture scene herself. In particular, she became very involved with the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, and today she sits on the organization’s board of directors. “Helping people engage with art is my passion because I truly believe that supporting artists and other individuals creating stories of cultural impact—of what was or is happening in their time and our own time—is so important,” she says.
Knight’s history with and passion for the arts and artists fuels her success as a professional in the art industry. As a result, Phillips recognizes the importance of the Colorado market for its business. Knight frequently travels to the Centennial State from New York, and Phillips also has a full-time representative—Melyora de Koning, senior specialist, 20th century and contemporary art—based in Denver. Koning works with Knight to ensure Phillips has an eye on the Colorado art and collecting markets, so they can better serve their clients all over the globe.
“The two biggest things I’ve noticed in Colorado time and time again is that people love their outdoor sports and their art—and often they’re equally passionate about both,” Knight says. As a result, some of the most thriving art markets in Colorado continue to be located in and around some of the top outdoor recreation areas in the Rocky Mountains, especially Aspen. “I think the rich history of Aspen and the Aspen Institute in the 1950s and 1960s—how it was created as a think tank and community for intellectuals and artists—played a major role in developing the arts and culture scene in Colorado,” Knight says. “It was a movement that helped attract people with a certain mindset to the state—people who really believe in supporting artists and enhancing their own lives and communities around art and culture.”
Of course, this kind of mindset and movement can now be seen throughout the state, from major arts institutions like the Denver Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art to the growing influx of artists moving to the state, and the corresponding growth of the art collector market as well. “There are some really important collections all along the Front Range, and lots more in Aspen,” Knight says. Some of the exciting works and artists with ties to Colorado that have been auctioned by Phillips in recent years include ceramics by former Anderson Ranch teacher Peter Voulkos (including a piece titled Rondena, which sold for a world-record $915,000); photographs by Robert Adams (including a piece titled Tract home and abandoned shopping cart. Colorado Springs, Colorado); and a pair of rare table lamps by French furniture designer and interior decorator Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann that came from a private collection in Colorado.
In addition to conducting about 50 auctions a year in their New York, London, Hong Kong, and Geneva salerooms (including a digital saleroom where clients can livestream auctions and place bids from anywhere in the world), Phillips holds private sales and curated selling exhibitions around the world. “We do a contemporary art focused event in Aspen every summer—and in the summer of 2020 we’ll also be hosting our first jewelry-focused event in Aspen as well,” Knight says, adding that details are still in the works but the new event will likely feature high-end vintage jewelry they think will be interesting to Colorado buyers.
Outside of the opportunities they provide to consign or buy through auctions and private sales, the Phillips team consults with museums, advises private estates and corporate clients, and offers appraisals and other financial services. The auction house prides itself in being accessible to all levels of buyers—from $800 to $8 million-plus—and from novice to highly experienced collectors. “Another thing that’s special about Phillips is we’re able to break barriers that make people uncomfortable or nervous. We make it easy for people to connect with us and learn about the process and value of buying art at auction, so even if you know nothing about art, we can guide you through everything,” Knight says.
This spring, Phillips’ New York branch will move its headquarters to 432 Park Ave., offering collectors an extraordinary new space to experience the very best of contemporary art, design, jewelry and watches.
Phillips Auction House
450 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10022
Lindsay Mitchell is a writer and marketing consultant based in Colorado Springs. In addition to Colorado Expression, she regularly writes for Southwest Art magazine and is a fervent supporter of the arts.
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