Russian-owned Phillips answers boycott call with Ukrainian donation

Phillips, the world’s third-largest auction house, said it will donate all of its commissions from Thursday’s high-profile art sale — $7.7 million — to the Ukrainian Red Cross.

The annnouncement from the Russian-owned auction house followed reports in The Post and elsewhere that some collectors were calling for a boycott of the auction house, which is owned by Mercury, Moscow’s leading luxury company.

“Phillips will donate 100% of its buyer’s [sic] premium and vendor’s [sic] commission from tonight’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale to benefit the Ukrainian Red Cross Society,” the company announced on Instagram Thursday morning.

The evening auction, of 20th century and contemporary art, was supposed to be a highlight for Phillips, which raked in a record $1.2 billion in global sales of luxury goods last year — up 32 percent from 2019. Global auction sales for 2021 were up 35 % to $993.3 million last year.

But Thursday night’s auction in London, which generated $40 million in sales, was “decidedly tepid,” one collector told The Post.

And in an unusual move, “four or five” lots were withdrawn before the sale, Artnet reported. They included one of the auction’s star pieces.

Volunteers carrying supplies enter a Red Cross location in Ukraine
Russian-owned Phillips’ decision to donate to the Ukrainian Red Cross is being praised by some and criticized as cynical by others.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“They could have gotten cold feet from the press or there was a lack of interest,” the collector said.

“The response from the sellers’ perspective was a little disappointing. “It was less than they hoped for,” the collector added.

When reached by The Post, David Norman, chairman of the Americas for Phillips, declined to comment.

Exterior of Phillips auction house in New York
Phillips is owned by Mercury, Moscow’s leading luxury company.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On Instagram, some art lovers applauded a pro-Ukraine statement from Phillips earlier in the week, while others called it out as cynical. “They are trying to spin it as something wonderful,” a collector said.

Stephen Brooks, Phillips CEO
Phillips, headed by CEO Stephen Brooks, announced the donation following reports some collectors were calling for a boycott of the Russian-owned firm.
LinkedIn

While some art enthusiasts said the auction house should not be “punished” for Putin’s invasion, others said all Russians must be held accountable for the country’s actions. “Was Hitler the only guilty person in Nazi Germany?” one asked.

In any case, the collector added: “It’s naive to think that everything can be laid at the feet of Putin, as if athletes can keep performing and act like nothing happened and as if the oligarchs can continue to float around on their yachts. It’s ridiculous. Russia is a gangster state, like Nazi Germany. Hitler wanted a reich of super Aryans and Putin wants to recreate a mythical Rus.”

All in all, 39 of the 41 lots on offer sold. They included bidding wars for John Chamberlain, David Hockney, Francis Bacon and Claude Monet. The highest price was $6.5 million for Hockney’s 1984 diptych Self-Portrait on the Terrace. Issy Wood’s Chalet, from 2019, also set a new auction record for the artist: $588,000; it was estimated to sell for $200,000.

Phillips would not go into detail about how it screens its sellers and buyers to make sure sanctions are complied with by all. In a statement, a spokesperson told The Post: “Phillips conducts careful due diligence before conducting business with any client, regardless of nationality. Phillips will not conduct business with any individuals or institutions targeted by sanctions.”

Retired hedge fund manager and art collector Andy Hall said on Instagram of Phillips’ donation: “Well this is a good start. Phillips, which is a well-run, feisty and energetic competitor for the other two big auction houses, should now follow Chelsea FC and sever all ties to Russia’s kleptocracy.”

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