Private Sales vs Auction with Deputy Chair of Phillips & Head of Private Sales, Miety Heiden

by leslierankowfinearts

Kehinde Wiley 
American African American

Phillips Private Sales first launched in 2018. The curated program exhibits some of the world’s most sought-after works from the 20th and 21st centuries, informed by the company’s understanding of what the market demands and with a focus on approachable works that appeal to multiple types of collectors. Miety Heiden, Deputy Chair at Phillips, is also the Head of Private Sales and director of Phillips X, the auction house’s private selling exhibition platform. Often ahead of the curve set by the art world’s major institutions, the team at Phillips Private Sales has established a pattern of tapping into the zeitgeist and sourcing works that are underrepresented in the secondary market. Last January in New York, Phillips responded to exploding demand for previously-ignored black artists with a group show entitled American African American.

The LRFA blog is very pleased to continue the conversation with Miety Heiden whose intelligence and perception of the art market, past, present and future, enriches Phillips’ reach in the global auction world. There is a huge potential for growth in the area of Private Sales, particularly in these extremely uncertain times, haunted by both the coronavirus pandemic and the state of extreme social unrest and inequality erupting in America at the present time.

“In the past, Phillips was not really focusing on private sales, and now we have created a platform for both online and offline sales where we can connect with clients 365 days a year. Auctions will always be a key part of our business, but there’s been a growing movement to engage with collectors more than just a few days a year. Again, as the market goes global, the demand just keeps rising, and we want Phillips to be there to meet it.”

Miety Heiden, Deputy Chair, Head of Private Sales and PhillipsX, in an interview in April 2020

Installation View
American African American

Miety, thank you for your time and sharing your expertise.

What are the deciding factors on the part of an auction house when analysing the best placement for an artwork, both geographically and in terms of private sales versus public auction?

It generally works on a case-by-case basis – in particular we take into account the reason for selling and the nature of the work. For example, those younger artists of the moment tend to do better at auction, and their reputation privately follows suit. On the other hand, some clients prefer to sell discreetly or quickly, and that’s often where private sales come into play. Sometimes, a particularly special piece can reach a wider audience if sold at auction, so we can go down that route to garner more exposure for the sale as this takes into account the popularity of certain artists in different parts of the world.

Nicholas Party
Phillips Evening Sale
May 2019
Estimate $100-150,000
Sold $608,000

The competition with all three auction houses has become increasingly charged as the prices of artworks have increased by geometric proportions and the collector profile has expanded both due to the globalization of art and as a result of digital technology. What are some of the ways in which an auction house can ‘sweeten the deal’ to persuade a collector to consign a work?

Given our more focused lens on the best of 20th century and contemporary art, we understand this market well and our entire team is fiercely committed to singularly promoting individual artworks and collections as leading highlights of a sale season. The emphasis that works of art get within the context of our sales is therefore far greater, as we have the advantage of being more curated in what we do. Our global reach spans a huge range of collectors worldwide, and we are soon opening an unrivalled space at 432 Park Avenue in New York that we are confident will be a huge selling point for Phillips.

Carrie Mae Weems
S/2 Gallery 2015

What are some of the highlights that stood out in the private sale sector during your time at Sotheby’s?

The nature of private sales is of course that they are private! But at the time, the S2 gallery was really ahead of the curve. We hosted a selling exhibition in 2015 called ‘I Like It Like This with Drake’ that included works by African American artists such as Crosby, Hendricks, Basquiat and others that are now in huge demand in the contemporary scene.


Who are the artists you view as having the strongest foothold now at auction and in private sales and which artists do you see moving into that position in the future?

The enormous amount of enthusiasm for the new generation of artists working in figuration points to a shift in taste. I think 2020 will continue to see this renewed appreciation for figuration in painting, with artists such as Julie Curtis, Genieve Figgis, Tschabalala Self, Nicholas Party, and Christina Quarles garnering great international attention and fierce competition on the secondary market. The result Phillips achieved recently for Amoako Boafo’s ‘The Lemon Bathing Suit’ reflects this shift. Of course let’s not forget the blue chip artists like Warhol and Twombly – these will always continue to do well as long as they are of a good quality. Quality is everything!

Amoako Boafo The Lemon Bathing Suit Phillips London Sale February 2020 Estimate GBP 30,000-50,000 Sold GBP 675,000