Robert Manley, Phillips Deputy Chair, on artists, auctions and the art market
2016: A YEAR OF SURPRISES, UPHEAVAL AND CHANGE IN EVERY POSSIBLE ARENA: POLITICAL, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC. CERTAINLY THE SEA CHANGE OF LEADERSHIP AND HIERARCHY AT THE AUCTION HOUSES AND GALLERIES HAS BEEN OF TSUNAMI PROPORTIONS IN THE ART WORLD. AMONG THE MANY SHIFTS OF VENUE, APPOINTMENTS AND PROMOTIONS, LAST JULY PHILLIPS ANNOUNCED A SIGNIFICANT COUP; THE APPOINTMENT OF ROBERT MANLEY AS DEPUTY CHAIR OF POST WAR AND CONTEMPORARY FOLLOWING A LONG-STANDING AND BRILLIANT CAREER AT CHRISTIE’S.
ROBERT IS A COLLEAGUE AND FRIEND WHO HAD ADVISED ME ON BIDDING AND COLLABORATED WITH ME ON A MULTITUDE OF TRANSACTIONS, BOTH BIG AND SMALL, AT CHRISTIE’S FOR AT LEAST A DECADE. IT IS NO SURPRISE PHILLIPS HAS WELCOMED HIM AS AN IMPORTANT LEADING FIGURE IN THEIR HIGHLY EFFECTIVE EXPANSION STRATEGY OF THE LAST THREE YEARS MARKED BY THE ARRIVAL OF EX-CHRISTIE’S ED DOLMAN IN 2014.
Phillips Auction House was founded in London in 1796 by Harry Phillips, formerly senior clerk to James Christie. The company descended in his family through the 20th Century until Bernard Arnault, chairman of the French luxury brand, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey, and merged his acquisition with the esteemed art dealers Simon de Pury and Daniela Luxembourg.
By 2013, the Mercury Group, a Russian retail and real estate conglomerate, acquired total control from de Pury and has expanded its international presence to include an impressive corner on 57th Street and Park Avenue (450 Park) and a modern, beautifully designed London Headquarters on Berkeley Square in the heart of Mayfair. Phillips has dedicated the last few years to forming a strong and unique presence in the competitive auction world in which Christie’s and Sotheby’s are serious rivals. As the art world has seen significant changes in the collector profile and buying habits, Phillips focuses on the younger, and perhaps edgier collector.
IT IS WITH GREAT PLEASURE THAT THE LRFA BLOG OPENS THE 2017 POST WITH ROBERT MANLEY, SHARING HIS PROFESSIONAL HISTORY AND TOUCHING UPON HIS NEW POSITION AS DEPUTY CHAIR AND SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SPECIALIST OF 20th CENTURY AND CONTEMPORARY ART AT PHILLIPS.
ROBERT, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE LRFA BLOG.
I HAVE HAD THE PLEASURE OF WORKING WITH YOU FOR MANY YEARS WHEN YOU WERE AT CHRISTIE’S AND LOOK FORWARD TO MANY MORE IN YOUR NEW POSITION AS DEPUTY CHAIRMAN AT PHILLIPS. ALTHOUGH WE’VE KNOWN EACH OTHER A LONG TIME, I KNOW ONLY RANDOM BITS AND PIECES ABOUT YOUR PROFESSIONAL HISTORY. ONE OF THE NICEST BONUSES OF THE LRFA BLOG IS LEARNING MORE ABOUT COLLEAGUES AND FRIENDS SINCE WE TEND TO FOCUS ON THE IMMEDIATE TRANSACTION OR EVENT AT HAND.
ROBERT, WHAT PROMPTED YOUR INITIAL INVOLVEMENT IN ART? WAS YOUR FAMILY INTERESTED. WAS THERE AN ARTIST IN THE FAMILY, OR SOME AMBITIONS IN THAT DIRECTION YOURSELF?
I can date my interest in art to the first day of Art History 101 in college. I had always loved history, but until that day, I never thought of art as vehicle for a dialogue with history, ideas, aesthetics, politics and culture. It was a revelation. That class began an obsession that continues to this day. Learning about art is a bit like trying to put together a never-ending puzzle, and every day I try to fill in another blank space.
I KNOW THAT YOU WORKED FOR JOAN WASHBURN, ONE OF THE MOST DISTINGUISHED DEALERS IN THE ART WORLD. WHAT PERIOD OF TIME WERE YOU WITH THE GALLERY? WHAT EXHIBITIONS HAD THE MOST INFLUENCE ON YOUR UNDERSTANDING AND APPRECIATION OF ART?
The one thing about Joan that many people don’t know is that before she became a dealer, she was a top specialist at Sotheby’s…she has a great understanding of the role that auctions play in the art world and the ways in which auction can play havoc. It made me appreciate the responsibility that auction houses have, to artists and their galleries.
Joan has been showing a diverse array of compelling art during her 40+ years in business (and still going strong), but the exhibitions that interested me most were the historical exhibitions we mounted. I was at the gallery in the late 1990s and we had exhibitions of Jackson Pollock, Louise Nevelson and David Smith, all estates with which we had a direct relationship. Joan was a joy to work with and I learned an enormous amount from her, especially the seriousness with which she researched, curated and installed the exhibitions. I also learned from Joan the importance of humor…she has a sharp wit and a great infectious laugh. I hope to one day have half of her energy and grace.
WERE THERE SPECIFIC PERIODS OF WORK THAT ALWAYS RESONATED WITH YOU? HAVE THESE PASSIONS AND ENTHUSIASMS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS? DO YOU THINK THAT AS WE ALL SEE MORE WORK, MORE EXHIBITIONS AND NEWER CONTEMPORARY WORKS, THAT OUR OWN EYE AND UNDERSTANDING EVOLVE, OR THAT PARTICULAR ARTISTS THAT ORIGINALLY RESONATE THE MOST STRONGLY CONTINUE TO DO SO?
I think our eye is always developing and our tastes change somewhat, but once you reach a certain understanding of art, it’s more like constructing a building–the things you love are like your foundation, and as you see more, you’re building more floors on top of them. I find my tastes and interests become more catholic with each year.
I’ve always admired the works of the Abstract Expressionists, the visual power and directness of the best of them. The historian in me likes the story of the genesis and development of the movement, and how it is inextricably linked with contemporary world events of the time.
I’ve also come to appreciate the work of Outsider Art. I was fortunate to work at Luise Ross Gallery, where we showed, among others, Bill Traylor, Minnie Evans and Thornton Dial. Outsider Art is a bit like the Abstract Expressionists, in the way they are very much unmediated expressions. They were trying to find something within themselves and express it to the rest of us. As I learned more about the movements that came in the wake of Abstract Expressionism, I became drawn to Minimalism and Conceptual art of the 1960’s, and the artists in their wake.
IN OUR NEXT POST, ROBERT EXPANDS ON HIS GALLERY EXPERIENCE AND THE PROFESSIONAL PATH THAT LED HIM TO CHRISTIE’S AUCTION HOUSE. WE HAVE A GREAT EXPERT ON TAP, WITH A PROFOUND KNOWLEDGE OF THE ART WORLD AND MARKET AND A GENUINE PASSION FOR ART AND WELCOME ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS.