Life is just dandy for Alexander Gilkes, the 35-year-old co-founder of Paddle8, a successful and innovative online-only auction house. He has been called “absolutely masterly” by his mentor, the great auctioneer Simon de Pury. (Gilkes was a marketing manager and auctioneer at the heritage-rich Phillips auction house, of which de Pury was once chairman.) He is also known for his Prince Charming good looks and his impeccable style. What’s more, his glamorous Venice wedding to fashion designer Misha Nonoo was attended by royals, princesses Eugenie and Beatrice included.
This month, Dallas gets its chance at the dapper Gilkes as he jets in to conduct the MTV Re:Define auction on April 4 at the Dallas Contemporary. Before he shows the city the way he wields his magic gavel — and fetches big bids — we posed some questions to the charming, disarming Brit.
by CHRISTINA GEYER
When boarding the plane for Dallas, what will be coming with you? I will be towing my trusted Globe-Trotter Centenary bag, carrying my ebony gavel, my Crockett & Jones oxfords, my Jawbone Up band and my current read, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.
Disregarding art as pure investment, of course, what is the No. 1 reason people buy a major work? The ability to partake in a story and to embellish one’s own identity with an assembled collection. In today’s hyperdigital age, where so much is ephemeral, an extraordinary object takes on added significance.
What are some differences between US and European auction buyers? US buyers tend to be more market-savvy and investment-conscious, whereas European buyers tend to engage more emotionally with the works and artists.
What do you collect, art or otherwise? Busts, decanters, watches and long-case clocks, as well as 18th-century oil portraits and contemporary abstract works
What do you drive? I rent cars in New York, but I’m eyeing up a Mercedes G-Wagen as a perfect chariot to weather the local winter and summer extremities. My daily steed is a beautiful Japanese road bike.
Simon de Pury called you “masterly.” In your opinion, what makes a masterful auctioneer? There are two types of auctions, both of which require very distinct forms of delivery: benefit auctions, where donated work is being sold on behalf of a philanthropic cause; and commercial auctions. In both instances, one needs rhythm, pace, intuition and the ability to command a room and respond sensitively to the environment and players. In the former, the auctioneer is an entertainer and as such has to keep the room’s energy high and humorous, while in the latter, the auctioneer is delivering a professional service and is responsible for multitasking bids, reserves and telephone banks — all while rolling with high stakes.
How do you gear up for an auction? Like Beyoncé, do you have your own version of “Sasha Fierce” — an alter ego — that you channel? I always endeavor to open the auction with a strong, articulate, energetic and self-effacing line or two. A little shot of Russia’s finest or a glass of Krug always helps bolster the delivery. Once on stage, providing that the opening is seamless, you forget all of your concerns and focus on the job at hand.
Describe the most exciting auction you have ever conducted. I always enjoy the AmfAR crowd, which has set the philanthropic bar for bidding activity. As for commercial auctions, I was fortunate to hammer down an Andy Warhol Marilyn for $38 million last year — a thrill.
Make your prediction: What will live auctions be like 10 years from now? The extravagant, twice-yearly evening sales of multimillion dollars’ worth of contemporary art are theatrical events and will continue to draw crowds from across the globe as the world’s affluent fight it out to win masterpieces. Meanwhile, the dwindling attendance of day sales, escalating production costs and global demand for artworks will push more sales online. The landscape is already transforming to reflect this change.
How does one react to being named to Vanity Fair’s 2013 International Best-Dressed List? It’s clearly a huge honor, and a nod from a publication that I continue to hold in the highest regard. It has made my wife — who is the more sartorially snappy of the two of us — question some of my more quirky outfits less frequently.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Too early to ask.