Elena Bowes

New York-London travel writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

The Mouse that Roared

October 10th, 2014
Berkeley Square, London
Lovings: Art, Design & FashionWanderings: Europe

Auction house Phillips is tired of playing little brother to domineering older siblings Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Phillips is demanding some airtime with this week’s opening of its splendid new European headquarters on Berkeley Square – just in time for the arrival of the art world glitteratti. The Russian-owned auctioneers have taken five floors  in a huge, airy corner building with lofty double-height ceilings and panoramic views that stretch as far as  Crystal Palace.

Phillips_30_Berkeley_Square(Image courtesy Phillips)

Phillips has also hired big gun curator Francesco Bonami to put together ‘A Very Short History of Contemporary Sculpture’, a ground floor exhibition where only two of the 33 works on show are for sale. In a back-breaking two months Bonami and his support team got a hold of pieces by  Carl Andre, Lygia Clark, Anthony Caro, Maurizio Cattalan, Urs Fischer, Robert Gober, Duane Hanson, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons to name just a few. Bonami said he wished they could have included a Richard Serra.


“The function of an auction house is to work more and more with museums, there’s an inevitable blurring of the boundaries,”

said the Italian art expert. Bonami (on the right) is telling Phillips staff including its new Chairman and Chief Executive Ed Dolman (on the left) about the eye-catching exhibition. Bonami’s impressive CV includes a lengthy stint at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, as well as curating top international shows such as the Venice and Whitney Biennales.


The ‘Left Handed Drummer’ above by Barry Flanagan is one of the two works for sale in Bonami’s show (estimate at £400,000-600,000).


My favourite piece is this Gustav Klimpt-esque hanging tapestry made from copper wire and sliced aluminium bottle caps by Ghana artist El Anatsui. It’s called ‘Earth Developing More Roots’.


“This is one of the most important works here,” says Bonami about the disconcerting 1992 Charles Ray sculpture of a boy above (with a Donald Judd to the right). “To explain to someone that this is more important (historically) than Koons is not easy.”


The pricier works will be auctioned off at the inaugural Evening Sale next Wednesday, October 15th. Check them out downstairs on the lower ground floor. Street artist Banksy mourns the death of the traditional red phone box, a piece of street art if there ever was one.


Less expensive works – like this pumpkin chess board by Kusama – are on the 6th floor, as is the energy boosting ‘Windows on the Square’ cappucino bar and views, glorious views of London.


Above is a colourful Chris Ofili hanging on the 1st floor.  The Turner Prize-winning British artist is having a show at the New Museum in NYC later this month.


Last week many of you know that I made a new BFF.


Well, sorry Victoria, but I am a fair weather friend. This week’s new BFF’s are Sara Tayeb-Khalifa and Philae Knight, Phillips’ client services dynamic duo, standing alongside a witty Harland Miller oil painting. They’re smart, funny, knowledgeable and give me free cappuccinos.

October, 2014