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An Interview with Jonathan Crockett of Phillips

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An Interview with Jonathan Crockett of Phillips
Image courtesy of Phillips

The Artling sits down with Jonathan Crockett, recently appointed Head of 20th Century and Contemporary Art & Deputy Chairman for Phillips Asia, as the auction house gears up for their inaugural 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale in Hong Kong happening later this week. Jonathan previously served as a Senior Specialist in Contemporary Asian Art and Director of Asia at Sotheby's in London until 2013, and had his own art advisory business in Hong Kong.

 

"Daydreamer" (2003) by Yoshitomo Nara
Image courtesy of Phillips

 

Your training in university was in the Chinese language and history of art. What inspired your interest in the subject and the region?

My first real experience of Chinese culture was in 1997 when I spent almost a year in China before attending university. I was born and grew up in England where exposure to Chinese culture is very limited; being half Chinese myself I was always fascinated by a culture which seemed foreign and exotic to me, despite being an inherent part of my own personal identity. So when the opportunity to study in China presented itself after I left school, I jumped at the chance, and spent a semester studying Chinese language in Beijing and several months traveling across the country. After the initial culture shock had worn off I thoroughly enjoyed my time particularly exploring the museums and historical sites, all so rich in history and culture. At this time the Chinese economy was about to explode and embark upon one of the most dramatic socio-economic changes the world has ever seen, and I could feel that energy and excitement already. I decided then that I wanted to study the culture in depth and develop my career in the region, which is why I then went on to study Chinese language and history of art at university.

 

Previous to this role, you were at Sotheby’s as a senior specialist, and also served as an art advisor in Hong Kong. What does your current role entail?

I joined Phillips in May 2016, and in my current role I oversee the company’s 20th Century and Contemporary Art initiatives in Asia. Working closely with Phillips’ global leadership team and specialist departments, I am responsible for building the company’s brand presence in the region with the goal of becoming a premier auction house in its categories here.

In practical terms, I am helping to put together, and am already collaborating with a fantastic team of seasoned specialists and regional representatives. I also represent the house at many of our Art Partnerships initiatives, such as at the recent Financial Times Conference, "How to Build an Art Collection".

 

A sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein
Image courtesy of Phillips

 

What is the direction forward for Phillips in Asia? What are the special regions you will be focused on developing?

Phillips was founded in London in 1796, and after 220 years we are still an innovative art business. In establishing our business in Asia we have had the opportunity to reconsider the traditional auction house model here and have put together sales which make sense in the current climate that cater to current market taste in the region. As a smaller auction house we are able to adapt to changes in the market in a way that other larger auction houses may not be able.

At Phillips, we offer a distinctive, contemporary destination for global art collectors. We already have an extensive existing client base from our long history of holding auctions in London and New York, and by establishing an Asian headquarters in Hong Kong and by holding auctions here we are rapidly building our client network in the region. Many of our existing and new clients are excited about our fresh approach to the business. We have come a long way in a short time, and have recently appointed representatives in Taiwan, Japan and Korea, and are actively looking to further develop our presence in China and Southeast Asia.

 

"From Winds" (1986) by Lee Ufan
Image courtesy of Phillips

 

In particular, what is your impression of the market in Southeast Asia? What are its prospects?

Just as with the rest of Asia the market in Southeast Asia has slowed in the past couple of years but there is still solid activity in the market as collectors pursue works of the highest quality. The region has huge potential as some of the world's biggest collectors are based there, and as the region develops economically so too will the art market grow.

 

How does it compare to your current base of Hong Kong?

Hong Kong makes sense as a location for our Asian headquarters and auctions, for all sorts of reasons, where everything is concentrated into a tiny parcel of land, whereas the collectors in Southeast Asia are spread across the many different countries in the region.

 

"Abstraktes Bild 776-1 (Abstract Painting)" (1992) by Gerhard Richter
Image courtesy of Phillips

 

Since a downturn in the Chinese art market, how do you see Asia responding to the shifting political and economic landscape in the West?

The market is certainly slower than it was two years ago however strong prices are still being achieved for the high quality works. There is a huge appetite for art in Asia, that has grown exponentially over the past 20 years, which will prove to be resilient to any softening of the market over the long term.

 

Likewise, how do you believe the attitudes of collectors will change?

We have witnessed Asian collectors becoming increasingly active in the Western art market. With the advancement of technology, access to art from across the world from Hong Kong to London and New York is becoming more globalised, as is the taste of collectors from the region.

 

"Untitled" (1967) by Park Seo-bo
Image courtesy of Phillips

 

Jigger Cruz is one of the mid-career artists in your line-up for the upcoming Hong Kong Auctions, and the younger Korakrit Arunanondchai has a lot of works in the New York Auctions. Who are other emerging artists from the region that you have kept your eye on?

We are very careful in who we select for our auctions: it is a priority for us to select artists who we believe have a sustainable future. Artists from the region that gain prominence in museums shows and biennales across the world are all of interest to us.

 

What are your favourite highlights from this upcoming auction?

There are too many to list! I am especially excited about the Roy Lichtenstein painting "Landscape with Grass", which is a particularly fitting work for our inaugural auction of contemporary art in Asia. We also have a very special painting by Yoshitomo Nara which has the potential to set a world record for the artist at auction for a work on paper. There are works of the highest quality by a number of globally sought after western artists such as George Condo, Adrian Ghenie and Michaël Borremans, all of which have a strong following in Asia. Additionally, one third of the sale is made up of design pieces which are all very special in their own right.

 

"Self Portrait" (1967) by Andy Warhol
Image courtesy of Phillips

 

Lastly, it seems that you’re an avid scuba diver, and even went on an artist-led scuba diving tour to see the fiber optic cables that run through the ocean floor off the coast of Florida. What are some of your favourite spots to travel to, for art or for diving (or both!)?

When I'm in London, Paris or New York I always make time to see the latest museum and gallery shows. The nature of my job means that I am on an airplane on average two or three times a week, so given the amount I travel for work, I try to limit long journeys when it comes to holidays to a minimum. That said, I do love scuba diving among other sports including mountaineering and skiing especially (I used to ski race as a child), and these hobbies have taken me to some very far flung places including Australia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and Mexico for diving, and the Swiss alps for when I need to retreat to the peace and serenity which only pine-forested and snow-capped mountains can provide.

 

Find out more about the upcoming Phillips auction here.


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.



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