Pulling Out Old Playbook, Phillips Returns to Curated Sales

Francesco Bonami

After a somewhat lackluster year (see Ostrowski Triumphs at Phillips’ Otherwise Tepid Contemporary Sale and Ho Hum, Phillips London Photography Sale), Phillips is returning to an old model of featuring sales assembled by a guest curator. In April, Italian curator and writer Francesco Bonami will organize a sale of Italian art at Phillips’s New York outpost.

Unlike other sales and exhibitions of modern and contemporary Italian art, Bonami will shift the focus from the popular and well-known Arte Povera movement, instead choosing to focus on lesser-known artists (though Paola Pivi, Roberto Cuoghi and Maurizio Cattelan made the roster).

The Art Newspaper reports that the sale will look similar to “Italics,” an exhibition he organized at the Palazzo Grassi in 2008, which is remembered for its championing of artists continually sidelined by traditional readings of Italian art.

The sale is being billed as the first major Italian auction in New York, and Bonami hopes to encourage an adventurous spirit in buyers. “There are a few names demanding high prices but there is much more to discover,” he explains. “If you are not following the beaten path you can still get masterpieces at a great value. New York is then the perfect platform.”

Bonami organized a part-selling show of contemporary sculpture at Phillips London last year, but the Art Market Monitor reports that it’s been four years since Phillips has completely turned over its auction rooms for a curated sale.

The last one was organized by French dealer Philippe Ségalot and was one of the most lucrative contemporary evening sales for the auction house to date. It remains to be seen how well this show will perform, especially given its experimental nature, but we’re excited to see a return to sales that have an educational element and a take-away other than how many millions were dropped (though we imagine the auction house would settle for the latter).


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