Get to Know Our Members: Consultant, Collector, Creative Director, Jessica Phillips

May 5, 2020

This month, our featured member is a Generalist. In other words, she knows a wide variety of cultures and art, with a major interest in Oceanic and African art. Jessica works with collectors on displaying their formed collections and consults on collection management, whether it be acquiring or deaccessioning privately, by auction, or donation.

She has also accessed and handled the most unique and obscure artefacts from Egyptian mummies to special FX movie memorabilia, contemporary artworks, and photography. Let’s put it this way: If you are looking for something unique, she either has it or she can locate it for you.

Do you have a routine when visiting a museum/gallery?
For art galleries, I begin where my eyes take me. Whichever piece grabs me first, I start there. If there is an artist statement, I enjoy reading it after I have digested the first artwork that drew me in. I like to begin with my own point of view and fresh eyes, then look at the work as the artist intended.

When I visit museums, I begin either at the special exhibition if I am there to view it. Afterwards, I start from the very top floor and move my way down. There are certain museums where I visit specific works; when at the AGO, it’s the portrait of the Marchesa Louisa Casati by Augustus John, the Frum African art collection, and the Henry Moore room. At the MET, I always visit the head of Nectanebo I or II. We sold it at Christies back in 2007. Jeff Koons purchased it and donated it soon afterwards. I also visit the Rarotonga God Staff that we sold through Sotheby’s. They are not only two of the most memorable deals I have ever worked on, but also special moments of my past life.

Tell us about the most recent piece you acquired?
I just bought a 6-foot baleen sled from Alaska through a Belgian Auction House. It has a beautiful black gleaming patina and many scratches showing use. I’m excited to see what the old collection tag says, as it wasn’t listed in the description. Baleen is the keratin fibre from whales commonly used for basketry and sleds in the arctic as there was a major lack of trees to use. I believe that it is mid to late 19th century but will not know until it arrives.

What's your art world pet-peeve?
People thinking, they “can’t afford art”. There are many reasons to buy art, and there is a major difference in buying for love and investment, although if you are buying for an investment, I suggest love is also involved. Some people are born collectors. Others buy to decorate, others buy to keep up with the Joneses, and some folks have a grocery list of the best.

I also despise when people judge and jump to negative assumption in collecting ethnographic art. Education and research are major pillars of this field and is also responsible for many of the modern greats we praise. We are merely care takers for the art that comes into our lives.

What international art destination do you want to visit most?
Italy. All of Italy. And the South of France. I always attend Parcours des Mondes in Paris, France every September. It is THE place to be for Ethnographic Art.

If you could have dinner with three artists from the past, who would they be?
Pierre Soulage, Pablo Picasso, and Jack Bush.

And this is why we love our “Get to Know Our Members” feature… we have so many inspirational members, whom we are so proud of, just like Jessica! Please read more about her adventures here.