Yesterday collectors and dealers crowded Phillips’s new headquarters at 30 Berkeley Square for a VIP preview of its upcoming Frieze Week auctions and to take in the building, which reportedly cost the company $160 million.
In the airy front room visitors were greeted by lox on tiny British versions of bagels, and a show curated by Francesco Bonami, “A Very Short History of Contemporary Sculpture,” commissioned by Phillips’ new CEO, Ed Dolman (who, prior to taking over in July served as chief executive and chairman at Christie’s, and then executive director of the Qatar Museums Authority).
“I worked with Ed Dolman in Doha on the Damien Hirst exhibition I did there,” Mr. Bonami said near the entrance, adding that it was the first show he’d ever done with an auction house. “I thought about sculpture, as soon as I saw this space.”
Despite its title, the non-selling show is in its own way comprehensive, with everything from Anthony Caro steel girders, to Thomas Schütte creatures atop pedestals, to a grisly Matthew Barney anatomical work. (“Oh, Jesus,” remarked an orange juice-toating visitor, upon bumping into Maurizio Cattelan’s untitled sculpture of a crucified woman in an art handling box).
Downstairs, where the auctions themselves will be held, the house featured works from its evening sale Wednesday, which were less of a piece. A jazz quartet played in front of a Martin Kippenberger (estimated at £700,000–£1 million), but just around the corner hung a wall with works by Mark Flood (est. £20,000–£30,000), Jacob Kassay (est. £100,000–£150,000) and Kour Pour (est. £20,000–£30,000), artists who have all lately experienced precipitous climbs in price.
“Excuse me,” a French art advisor, client in tow, asked someone standing before the Pour. “Do you know if he is Iranian? Or Indian?” (Later they settled on: “Il est ‘L.A.'”) Another wall of a similar theme paired Alex Israel (est. £200,000–£300,000) with David Ostrowski (est. £50,000–£70,000).
“Lut-ien-a Smit,” an Italian mother told her child, flicking her wrist at the canvas to demonstrate how she imagined one of the artist’s splattery “rain paintings” was made.
The basement was, however, home to an impressive James Turrell work, Fastnet (1992, est. £250,000–£350,000), a light installation of varying dimensions that, in its black curtained room happened to look like a movie projector with no input, a blue strong rectangle flush with the wall. Some may even have missed it for that reason, since the wall label seemed to have gone missing for a portion of the brunch.
But then, even if a few missed it, it was still more than may have seen it at Howick Place, Victoria, where Phillips had staged its London auctions since 2008. Phillips President Michael McGinnis said that a Saturday open house at the old space might have brought 100 visitors. In the new space the day before the brunch, they’d had 800.
“Location, location, location,” he added.