Yet behind the flawless image and eclectic background, I have found an intelligent, thoughtful, soft spoken yet extremely innovative and passionate art curator with a bold and daring vision. A philanthropist who prefers to not talk much about the good he brings into the world. A mix of elements that normally would leave us puzzled until we come to the conclusion that he is perfectly aligned with his purpose of being a respected art curator.
A Cambridge educated guy with a background in finance and currently immersed in the art world, the owner of The Contemporary Hoerle-Guggenheim Gallery turns out to be a pleasant surprise. No sense of entitlement or redundant elements. Just someone on the mission to find the extraordinary of today that can transcend successfully into the future.
Driven by an astute business sense and love of art, Philippe is poised to build longevity in his field, and offer an exquisite cross-branding experience like no other.
Eclectic individual, highly educated, European background which I think highly of. Why the transition to the art world?
It wasn’t really a transition I planned for. I believe that working and having a career in finance before has only helped me to build a foundation for what I am doing today. And I can look back and easily connect the dots. I always had a passion for art, and I was looking for a change at that point in my life, and this opportunity really presented itself well. I felt very much prepared for it especially since art is ingrained in me: I started going to museums with my mother when I was three years old. It’s in my DNA: we were constantly surrounded by painters, collectors. Being successful in the art world doesn’t necessarily take some formal education however it takes an eye for good art and knowledge and passion. All these elements paired together have a cumulative effect.
A business mind set in conjunction with a great eye for art. Perfect blend! Did you feel challenged about starting off in the highly competitive New York?
I didn’t really think about it much. I was consistent in pursuing my vision. And what would make the gallery a success. There are many galleries out there, but I think if you stay firm with your vision, you create your own market. I don’t believe in competition rather in focusing on what you know it works. As best as you can.
Your competitive advantage is that you automatically stand out, and I believe it’s partially due to your European background combined with US experience that gives you double leverage in my view. What differentiates an art curator in Europe from a New York based art curator?
It’s a very different set of collectors. In Europe, collectors will take their time, and here in NYC things move way faster, there is more productivity. It’s a very dynamic market. You have to stand out by doing everything around the artist right, almost building a brand around them, and building longevity. NYC is definitely very fast paced; you have to be at the right place at the right time. You don’t have the luxury of debating much. Europe is more relaxed.
You have an exquisite eye for capturing unique emerging artists. This is actually how I noticed you on social media. How do you find these artists and how do you build the respective relationships?
I feel like a treasure hunter. I always follow my gut feeling for better or for worse because sometimes I also jump without necessarily evaluating the possible outcome. I have a great passion for what I do, so I do really trust my instinct. I try to analyze and see what people would want because everything is extremely time sensitive. A Van Gogh who was born a few hundred years ago had a different impact compared to this moment. Maybe at the time, he was revolutionary, now is valuable. I truly believe that timing is extremely important.
We live in the Digital era, everything is very fast, how do you connect with your audiences? Do you take in consideration their preferences or rather follow your own vision independently?
Everything is digital but at the same time, I like to bring back the intimacy between the collectors and the art work. I have a gallery that is very event-driven. I think the space itself is very powerful, and so is the brand I build around it. I really invest a lot to position it correctly in the market. I aim to create a great experience. We receive a lot of artist applications, and we cannot work with all of them. My focus is to choose the ones who have the potential to stand out over time. Every artist’s strategy is different; it’s about finding the tools that will help them succeed. Analyzing, getting at the core of who the artist is, and positioning them correctly in the market, and therefore attract the right collectors is my goal. Digital helps tremendously because we can produce videos, and create synergy and emotional connection with the audiences. For instance, the video we made for Tim Bengel became extremely successful: we had 160 million views all over social media. We are fully taking advantage of the Digital World.
The more we talk the more I realize that your true competitive advantage is the ability to combine tradition and innovation. The old school values of art perception brought ‘into the Now’. Is it the result of your business sense?
I don’t necessarily think that it’s related to my business sense. It rather reflects my true passion for the old masters and the value they bring into today. Nothing will come close to it. How do you find a DaVinci or a Vincent van Gogh in 2017? That’s really the challenge, and the way you do that is by finding something that is time sensitive, revolutionary, unique and turns marketable. How do you make an artist desirable? A question to ask yourself. There are many artists who do have the potential but they are lacking something… As you said, using the traditional approach which is seeing what has worked in the past and playing it in the Now in the contemporary world, that’s the golden question.
When you look at your roster of talent, and you do have amazing ones, what is their chance of longevity? Let’s say in at least 10 years from now?
I truly believe that I have some of the best artists who have the potential to become extremely successful, prolific. The game has changed. The old masters, they painted purely out of passion. It was no financial pursuit; they did it for their own fulfillment and calling. Today there are many other factors besides fame. The artists become celebrities. How do you find the artist that does it for the right reasons? Nothing wrong with financial gain. But when there is the right reason behind it, this is where the longevity comes in. Joanna Keimeyer, Autumn de Forest, Tim Bengel, for instance, bring a level of uniqueness, passion, dedication to their craft and also marketability. They have the opportunity to become highly desired in the long run.
Positioning yourself as an artist in the market, becoming a brand, building strategic partnerships. I feel that it’s a lot of pressure for the artists these days to become strong personal brands as a bridge to success. I am thinking specifically of your artist Conor McCreedy who has a capsule clothing collection and just launched a cocktail in his signature blue color. Your thoughts?
I cannot speak for everyone. In his case, he brings lots of intensity in creating the brand. He has products that he does outside of his craft. Painting will always come first for him. He is a painter, but he is also able to be a brand and to look at other markets. Why not? When you look at other artists though there are some questionable collaborations like for example the most recent one between Louis Vuitton and Jeff Koons. It’s important to stay truthful to who you really are as an artist.
The survival mechanism for them is quite intense. The pressure to deliver. How do you offer emotional support to your artists? Especially since artists are known to be highly sensitive.
My priority is for them to feel that they are well represented. It’s important that I respect their vision but I also put my input into our collaboration. From what I’ve experienced so far, building great relationships is a key component very important to me. I need to be able to build a lasting connection with the artists because this is how longevity happens. In the beginning, I may not have seen it this way, but I started to realize that having this as a strong foundation really creates success and success are meant to be shared.
Is trust important?
Certainly! You have to be able to establish a bond and maintain it.