Jonathan Crockett, Phillips Asia Chairman, on Art and HK
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Jonathan Crockett, Phillips Asia Chairman, on Future of Contemporary Art

Jonathan Crockett Phillips Asia Chairman on Future of Contemporary Art 2

Jonathan Crockett, Chairman Asia and Head of 20th Century and Contemporary Art of Phillips Asia, has played a key role in expanding the company's footprint in the region since joining in 2016.

Crockett has established Phillips' Asia headquarters in Hong Kong and led the company's growth across the region. In 2021, Phillips achieved a record-high auction sales of US$ 270 million in Asia.

Crockett, who has worked at Christie's and Sotheby's before joining Phillips, is a leading expert in International contemporary art, holding a rich educational background in art history.

In the wake of a buzzing Art Week, which saw Phillips host a wealth of exhibitions, talks, and events for visitors, Jonathan Crockett speaks about the future of Phillips in Asia with the opening of their new Asia headquarters in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District.

Jonathan Crockett, Phillips Asia Chairman, on Art and HK

Studying Chinese language and art in Beijing and London, and Chinese literature and antiques at Oxford University, it seems you have primed yourself for a career at Phillips dedicating to the appreciation and propagation of Chinese art.

It’s ironic, because when I was a student, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I decided to travel to China in my gap year after school before university, and I felt the energy, vibrant and potential for the country.

I ended my year trip in Hong Kong for ten days and thought, if Mainland China is one day like Hong Kong, I need to be doing business in Mainland China because this is the country/ region of the future. I found myself back in Mainland China during my university studies, exploring temples, museums and cultural sites, while developing a passion for Chinese art history.

How did you establish a career from your passion for the rich antique and physical history of China, Jonathan?

Alike my friends, I began applying to jobs in investment banks, consultancies, and accountancy firms. An opportunity came up at Christie's, and I began to discover the whole art and auction world. I fell in love with and have been doing it ever since for 20 years.

I began at Christie’s in a generalist position, before moving to Sotheby's to join their Chinese art department. At that time, there was no such thing as a contemporary art market for Chinese contemporary art.

I transferred to the Hong Kong office for Sotheby’s as Chinese contemporary art began to take off. I developed my career in Chinese antiques, contemporary art, and Pan-Asian pieces, broadening my scope.

Jonathan Crockett, Phillips Asia Chairman, on Art and HK

With your knowledge and education in Chinese language, history, culture, and society, how has this benefited your work in auctioneering and art appreciation?

I am still interested in Chinese history, art history and culture. To an extent, there are links from the ancient worlds to the contemporary day. I had an advantage perhaps over others in that I could see that link and that progression in art history.

Whereas if you are unaware of the thousands of years of Chinese art history that have existed here, and you looked at a Chinese contemporary art painting from the nineties, you wouldn't necessarily see the symbolism, underlying meanings and messaging that would be prevalent in those paintings that perhaps a Chinese viewer would see.

Why has and is it important for Phillips to compete in the Hong Kong market, especially in 2023?

Hong Kong's always been a melting pot between the East and West. Being half Chinese and growing up in the UK, I never felt I truly belonged anywhere until I came to Hong Kong for the first time. The city connected with me in a way that no other place in the world has ever done.

Hong Kong serves as the main hub for art and luxury. That's one of the main advantages of Hong Kong over other cities in Asia. The fact that it's literally on the doorstep of China. 70% of our transactional activities in Asia comes from Greater China, predominantly Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the mainland.

In terms of its other advantages, its geographic location, freeport status, trade in art is completely tax free, legal system, and world cast infrastructure. It's an unrivalled hub, and that's why I'm here. That's why we are here. 

Jonathan Crockett, Phillips Asia Chairman, on Art and HK

How is Phillips aiming to re-establish that connection to China in the 2023 post-pandemic?

I wouldn't say we necessarily lost that connection over. We looked to engage with our clients in ways that we weren't engaging with them before, because it wasn't necessary to do yeah.

We enhanced our digital capabilities, our interaction with our clients, whether it was engaging with them on WeChat or other forms of social media and upping our online offerings.

In 2019, we held seven online auctions. In 2020, well over 30. It was our strongest year in our 220-year history and was beaten by 2021. Now that Hong Kong is back, we’re looking at retaining the success of the COVID years and engaging with audiences on the ground again.

I presume the opening of the new Phillips HQ in West Kowloon Cultural District was timed well for the flourishing of Hong Kong this year.

Yes. When it comes to our business, people are parting with significant sums of money. For artworks, watchers, jewellery, an abstract painting, you can't replicate that experience of standing in front of it and seeing it with your own eyes.

The electricity and excitement of an auction can't be replaced. We decided to commit to the space in West Kowloon a few years ago, and it was ready in March for Art Week as the art world descended on Hong Kong, welcoming thousands of people through our doors to view our ‘highlights from Hong Kong and New York auctions.

It was by far and away the most well-attended exhibition we have ever put on in the region.

Jonathan Crockett, Phillips Asia Chairman, on Art and HK

As far as the energy emanating from Art Week in Hong Kong, how are you elongating the electricity throughout 2023 in West Kowloon?

Consistency. We’re fully programmed for the rest of the year, where previously we’d only sell once in the spring and fall. We will be hosting auctions for watches and jewellery in May, selling a Patek Philippe wristwatch once belonging to the last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Puyi.

We are booked until the end of the year. While focusing on Hong Kong, our regional base, we'll also continue to do events in the different regions where we have a presence and engage with our clients there, including Singapore, Taipei, and Seoul. Stay tuned!

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