This underdog auction house is taking on Sotheby’s and Christie’s

September 10, 2015, 5:23 PM UTC
Phillips 'The Great Wonderful' Dinner - 100 Years Of Italian Art
MILAN, ITALY - APRIL 09: Edward Dolman attends Phillips private dinner and preview of selected works from 'The Great Wonderful' 100 Years Of Italian Art curated by Francesco Bonami on April 9, 2015 at Palazzo Visconti in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Jacopo Raule/Getty Images for Phillips)
Photograph by Jacopo Raule — Getty Images

Phillips, an auction house often considered a smaller rival to Christie’s and Sotheby’s (BID), is undergoing a quiet transformation that could upend the art world.

The auction house’s CEO, Edward Dolman, who was appointed last year, has been collecting a team of impressive suits from across the industry, according to Bloomberg. Many of the new hires are Dolman’s old colleagues from earlier in his career. Dolman served as CEO, then Chairman of Christie’s until 2011. Christie’s has experienced a staff exodus in recent months due to the growing appeal of Phillips.

Phillips is not a new auction house. But the chronic underdog has been on an innovative tear, valuing “quality over volume and turnover,” Bloomberg reported. The auction house is reviving its Modern art business, the Observer reported, as well as launching a partnership with eBay (EBAY) to allow buyers to bid online. The auction house has long been known for kickstarting young artists’ careers, and it rebranded the sale of its emerging and popular artists, formerly “Under the Influence,” as “New Now.”

“What we are doing is adapting the traditional auction house business model by focusing on 20th century and contemporary art and design in order to provide the best service and the best expertise with the best auction catalogs in the best exhibition spaces and to build a highly successful and profitable auction house,” Dolman told Bloomberg.

It might just break the iron grip that Christie’s and Sotheby’s have on the art auction market.

Correction: This article has been corrected to say that Edward Dolman was CEO and Chairman at Christie’s, not Sotheby’s.

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