Ever wanted to know about what it’s like to work in contemporary art at a major auction house? Charlotte Gibbs joined the Phillips’ 20th Century and Contemporary Art department after spending over two years in the Modern British and Impressionist and Modern departments at Christie’s, so she knows a thing of two about the auction world, but she actually first began by studying German in London. Subsequently moving to Berlin to study art history, she interned at a number of project spaces in Berlin before cementing her career in auction houses. As Head of Online Sales at Phillips London, Charlotte has led London online only sales since launching Heatwave in summer 2019, championing young artists and making cutting-edge artworks accessible to all. In the run-up to next month’s Heatwave Online Auction, we spoke to Charlotte about her career, online sales and tips for young collectors.
When did you first know you wanted to work in the art world?
I studied German at university and lived in Berlin for a year, where I interned at small DIY-style galleries in the city, which was such an exciting time in my life. At university I opted for art history modules and concentrated my studies on German art, film, literature and history. After reading an interview with Helena Newman, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe about her experiences of combining her language studies with her love of art, I wanted to work for an auction house to travel and work with international clients. I’ve kept a copy of that interview to remind me of that initial spark of inspiration!
How did you get your job at Phillips?
After working at Christie’s in the Impressionist and Modern British departments, I saw an opportunity arise at Phillips and applied. I knew it would be competitive, but I loved the idea of working for a younger auction house with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Can you explain what you do all day?
My day is as varied as the art I am looking at! I research, inspect and catalogue art from throughout the 20th century to the present day and provide valuations for clients. I enjoy working with our collectors who collect specific artists and I love learning about the breadth of art history. I also oversee our online sales team and curate our online auctions, drawing out and highlighting particular stories behind the lots in our sale.
Can you explain the ethos behind your Heatwave sales?
Our ethos is to make our Heatwave sales accessible, diverse and engaging, offering works at a variety of price points for new and established collectors. As well as contemporary artists, we also offer design and photography pieces, so collectors can explore works across the traditional sale categories. We strive to highlight voices of lesser known or younger artists to refocus the lens and allow new exciting dialogues to emerge from our sales.
How have attitudes to online sales changed during the pandemic?
We have seen a huge engagement in our online auctions throughout lockdown. Our international collector base has been consigning and buying readily from our online auctions, which has been amazing to see. Clients have enjoyed the freedom and agency that bidding in an online sale brings, all from the comfort of their own home.
Which artists should we have on our radar?
We have been lucky enough to offer pieces by George Rouy, Koak, Caroline Walker and Tschabalala Self in our recent online sales. There are some fantastic artists practising in London at the moment like Rhys Coren, Somaya Critchlow and Jesse Mackinson. I am really excited about the Robin F. Williams and Tunji Adeniyi-Jones in our forthcoming Heatwave auction too.
What tips would you give to a young collector?
I always get really hungry to learn and read around certain artists. I think having an inquisitive mind and desire to go and see exhibitions is key– really submerging yourself in art is the best way to figure out what you like and what you want to collect.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
I hope that our online offering at Phillips becomes even stronger and grows with developing technology. I love the idea of integrating art with digital advances to make it more accessible to audiences all over the world.