The art market is shifting into a new phase. Gone are the distinctions between primary and secondary markets, with galleries overseeing the former and auction houses the latter. Artists, too, are seeking new forms of representation, bypassing the traditional dealer model and selling directly to collectors from their studios.
In this vein, Phillips has announced the launch of Dropshop, a digital platform offering monthly limited edition releases of newly commissioned art and objects. The first “drop” features one hundred bronze crowns that look like inflatables, alongside a large-scale drawing of one of the crowns, by the Australian artist Cj Hendry. Prices will be released on 20 August when the “drop” goes live.
Phillips makes the bold claim that it is the “first and only platform in the international auction sphere that partners with working artists, making their work available for immediate purchase”. The emphasis here is on “immediate purchase”. According to a spokesperson for the auction house, this “buy it now” function sets Phillips apart from Sotheby’s primary market channel Artist’s Choice and auction veteran Simon de Pury’s company, which also consigns works from artists’ studios.
Christine Miele, who was appointed Phillips’s retail sales director, ecommerce this spring, notes how the pandemic began to shift buying habits. As she puts it: “Collectors not only became comfortable with transacting on the back of social media engagement, but they often actively sought it out. For quite some time, artists have also been interested in playing a more active role in their markets.” Miele thinks Dropshop will “change the long-held dynamics between these two groups […] as we expand beyond the model that has defined us for centuries”.
She also notes how artists are increasingly showing “a much bigger interest in taking an active role in self-representation”, adding: “Given this, we’re looking closely at what features an auction house should embody going forward, and I think this is a natural next step in the evolution of this industry.”
A possible sweetener for artists to collaborate with the auction house is the promise that, in line with the UK’s artist resale royalty rate, artists will receive 3% from future sales of their works through Phillips (the US does not operate a royalty system). However, the royalty is forfeited if the work is resold elsewhere. “We can only control this if the work is brought back to Phillips, but would love for this to eventually be an industry-wide initiative,” says Miele, who joined Phillips from the Kehinde Wiley Shop having previously run the mid-century design gallery reGeneration in New York for nearly three decades.
Miele remains tight-lipped about future “drops”, except to say that the firm has lined up “blue-chip artists to those newer to the secondary market”. She adds: “We envision the platform as eventually supporting all the categories that Phillips has to offer—from editions to objects of design and potentially even jewels.”