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Marc Benioff, the founder and CEO of Salesforce.com, strode up Park Avenue with two deputies in the gloaming of Wednesday afternoon. As they passed Phillips Auction house, Benioff noticed the crowds through the floor-to-ceiling windows and suggested to his companions that they go inside to look around.
As the tech pioneer emerged from the crowd, he was heard remarking to one of his aides that they ought to buy something. Perhaps not realizing the crowd was waiting to ascend the back stairs to attend an auction, Benioff and his pals were nowhere to be seen once the bidding began.
The anecdote is worth retelling for two reasons. The first is that it captures the signal fact that Phillips is getting noticed and being taken seriously. The second is that it illustrates how far Phillips—and the art market—has to go in getting many of the newly rich engaged in buying art.
Last night's sale at Phillips marked the firm's transition to becoming a peer of Sotheby's and Christie's at least in Contemporary art. The overall quality, price and results of the works in the evening and the day sales has changed substantially this season. Phillips is the only house to see its Evening sale total rise from $66m last year to $111m this year.
Artnews's Nate Freeman quotes Phillips CEO Ed Dolman on this ambition:
“You know, I spent 30 years as the CEO of Christie’s, and I think, with Phillips, we’re now a serious competitor,” Dolman said. “And there’s nothing wrong with having three major houses.”
Dolman, who was CEO of Christie's for about 10 years from December 1999 until 2010 when Steven Murphy was appointed CEO and Dolman became Chairman, was surely referring to his employment at Christie's. But he was absolutely right about there being nothing wrong with having three major houses.
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