Last September, Arnold Lehman announced that he was retiring from his post as director of the Brooklyn Museum, a job he has held since 1997. Today, however, it became clear that his retirement won’t last very long, with Phillips announcing that he has joined the auction house as a senior advisor to its chairman and CEO, Edward Dolman.
Dolman joined Phillips last July after having spent 27 years at Christie’s and three years as the executive director of the Qatar Museums Authority. In the past year, Dolman has been trying to turn Phillips into a bigger competitor in the contemporary art market. “I watched Phillips evolve as a business with great interest from my desk at Christie’s, constantly thinking about the potential it had then as a competitor,” Dolman told ARTnews in February. To further establish Phillips as a major force in Asia, Dolman hired Matt Carey-Williams, the former director of White Cube, Gagosian, and Haunch of Venison, as Phillips’ deputy chairman of Europe and Asia.
Many of Lehman’s exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum were about modern and contemporary art, and so, when Lehman starts at Phillips in mid-September, he will likely be helping Dolman further bolster Phillips’ reputation in the contemporary art market.
Of the 200-plus exhibitions that Lehman oversaw at the Brooklyn Museum, among the most memorable is “Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection,” a show which featured a number of controversial works, most notably Chris Ofili’s Holy Virgin Mary. Rudolph Giuliani called that work “sick” for Ofili’s combination of religious content with sexual imagery and elephant dung, and proceeded to ask Lehman to close the exhibition for a supposed misallocation of New York City funding. “Sensation” has gone down in art history for introducing New York audiences to artists like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and Ofili—artists whose work regularly commands high prices at the auction block.
Lehman is not the only former museum directors to have left for an auction house, yet he is among the most notable figures to have made such a career choice. In 2007, Lisa Dennison, the former director of the Guggenheim, left to become the chairman of Sotheby’s North and South America division. Lehman’s news may be even more surprising, considering that Dennison had only been at the Guggenheim for two years by the time she left.