The newly appointed Phillips auction house chairman, Cheyenne Westphal, has always been on speed dial in the high-powered art world. After joining Sotheby’s 27 years ago as a university graduate, she quickly ascended to head of contemporary art and presided over the most successful contemporary art auction in Europe, which achieved a staggering $203.6 million two years ago. She’s also been responsible for a slew of world records, including Gerhard Richter’s brilliant Abstraktes Bild (1986), which soared to $46 million.
Since joining in March, Westphal is fast dispelling all notions that Phillips is in third place when it comes to the major auction houses.
“Unlike my job at Sotheby’s where I only looked at contemporary art, now 20th-century art, design and jewelry are also under my wing, and I love the mix,” says Westphal from Phillips at London’s Berkeley Square. “That’s just one way we’re looking forward,” she says, while noting more collectors than ever are plucking up all of those categories.
This spring, Westphal made a bold new move in showcasing their latest offerings. “We installed a Jean Prouvé house on the ground floor and then flanking it was a Peter Doig oil, while a rare plaster Alberto Giacometti chandelier was suspended overhead,” she says. Proving her prowess in orchestrating such a distinctive combination, the chandelier earned $2.6 million in their London April sale. Capping off that season, Doig’s Rosedale (1991) hit an astonishing $28 million-plus figure in New York, making him the most expensive living British artist.
Telling of the German-born Westphal’s renown, the London collector and dealer Anthony d’Offay—who gifted his extraordinary collection of 2,000 paintings and sculptures by the likes of Bruce Nauman and Joseph Beuys to the Tate and National Galleries of Scotland—recruited Westphal to value his holdings back in 2008. “Cheyenne and I first met in 1990, and since then I’ve never imagined the art world without her in it,” says d’Offay. “She’s that rare combination of someone scholarly, discreet and totally marvelous with great taste and I count her as a friend,” he adds. Among her other close friends are Damien Hirst and Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet.
Right now Westphal is gearing up for the frenzied November sales when she goes head-to-head against Sotheby’s and Christie’s. And, once again, she’s reined in a flurry of A-list female artists, including Carmen Herrera, Marlene Dumas, Joan Mitchell, Agnes Martin and Helen Frankenthaler.
And when it comes to her own growing collection, female artists also hold pride of place. In her living room, in an 1877 Notting Hill apartment with a 12-foot ceiling, hangs a massive Tara Donovan installation. “It’s made of silver Mylar loops pinned to the wall, and when you get close you see a variety of shapes in the changing light,” says Westphal. “It’s magical.” Nearby are a Gerhard Richter and a Damien Hirst.
“On my wish list is a major Michal Rovner,” says Westphal of the Israeli multimedia artist. “And I’m looking in every major design sale.”