Phillips Recruits Ken Yeh, a Well-Connected Veteran of Asia’s Art Market, to Help Lead Push Into the Region

Yeh has years of experience at Christie's Asia and Acquavella Galleries under his belt.

Ken Yeh, then deputy chairman of Christie's Asia, speaks about Andy Warhol's Lemon Marilyn when it was on display in Hong Kong. (Yeh joined Phillips in late 2017.) Photo Woody Wu/AFP/Getty Images.

As Phillips continues to expand its re-energized operation into Asia, the auction house has recruited an impressive asset to help tap into the highly sought-after market: Ken Yeh, a specialist in Modern and contemporary Asian art who has spent the past four years doing business development in the region for Acquavella Galleries, and before that served as the chairman of Christie’s Asia.

Phillips held its first full evening sale in Hong Kong this year, and will soon host its first auction preview in South Korea to build up anticipation for its next Hong Kong sale. Edward Dolman, the CEO of Phillips, is particularly bullish about the house’s prospects in China, calling it “potentially the largest growth market for the art business, anywhere.”

In that regard, Yeh, who was born and raised in China, joins the business with a useful portfolio. “I helped Christie’s to build up great client groups in Asia,” he said—adding, with pride, “they still call me for my advice.” While those clients were long interested in only Asian art, he said, he expanded the market by educating them about Western art during his time at Christie’s, introducing Impressionist art to the mix. Among his highest achievements at Acquavella, meanwhile, was notching a sale north of $65 million to an Asian client, Yeh said.

Dolman, who was previously the CEO and then chairman of Christie’s, overlapped with Yeh briefly at the auction house. “For those of us who have been around for 15 or 20 years, we remember Ken as the most influential and the first really serious client advisor working for Christie’s or Sotheby’s who opened up the market for the big Asian clients,” Dolman said. “He has always excelled on the sales side, advising important Asian clients on extremely high-value purchases on the Asian market, and he has an unrivaled address book of the top clients in Asia.”

That region is key not just for Phillips but for any auction house today, Dolman pointed out, with the three main auction houses doing anywhere between 10 and 25 percent of their business there. “All collectors are looking for advice that they can believe and that comes from a trusted source,” he added, meaning that the new hire’s relationships will come in handy.

Yeh will work closely with Jonathan Crockett, who was named deputy chairman of Asia in 2016, and report to Jean-Paul Engelen and Robert Manley, co-heads of 20th-century and contemporary art.

Phillips will stage its next sale of 20th-century and contemporary art on November 16, led by Peter Doig’s Red House (1995–1996), estimated at up to $22 million—a potentially record-setting sale for the artist.

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