There were many great books about the art world & the art markets published over the last years. Don Thompson’s The $12 Million Stuffed Shark provided an economist’s perspective. Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World presented a journalistic view. Now Philip Hook added an interesting extra voice, sharing his personal experiences as a dealer and an auction house director. 

We asked Philip a couple of questions to further explore his personal relationship with art and the art market.

Hi Philip, we really enjoyed reading Breakfast at Sotheby’s. You tell stories about the art world in such an approachable way that it feels more like spending time at a dinner party with you than reading a book. We wondered: after 35 years in the business, can you still enjoy a piece of art without trying to guess its price?

I hope so. Refreshing one’s eye regularly in museums, where quality is high and price is irrelevant, is an essential counterbalance to day-to-day existence in the art market.

The chapter about “Provenance” is the shortest one in your book. Why so little about such a crucial and controversial topic (particularly when related to auction house sales)?

There is only so much you can say about provenance, which is a delicate area. I think I go as far as I can in the “Restitution” section. Maybe the full chapter will have to wait for a future book, to be written once I’ve retired…

Why did you choose to exclude some of the most powerful players in the contemporary art market: the Mugrabi family, Charles Saatchi, Damien Hirst…?

This is a terrible cop-out, but I’m not a contemporary art expert. So I only offered a few ‘outsider’ observations on the subject.

We had a good laugh when reading the “Glossary”. This part confirms the stereotype of art intellectuals as the general public often sees them. Do you think this intellectualism is changing with pop music figures like Kayne West, Pharrell Williams or Lady Gaga joining the art world as collectors and through collaboration projects?

What I was poking fun at is the meaningless verbiage that is unthinkingly applied to art by people who should know better. It is so unenlightening, and lazy. But there are critics who talk and write well about art without recourse to these words. For instance I heard Antony Gormley talking about Anthony Caro the other day. It was succinct, intelligent, and illuminating.

Going back to the “Glossary”, are you actually using these words?

Just occasionally I am ashamed to hear one escape my lips. But I hope I’ve never used ‘critique’ as a verb.

A last bonus question: you mentioned a combination of four reasons why people buy art – investment, status, spiritual benefits and intellectual/aesthetic pleasure. What mix motivated your first art purchase?

Being very poor in those days, my first purchase was 95 per cent motivated by investment. I sold it soon after for a profit and managed to pay the rent for another month. But since then financial necessity has become less pressing and I own quite a lot of works bought primarily for spiritual, intellectual, or aesthetic reasons that I would never sell.

Thanks a lot for the interview.


video on the left is a recording of an interview with the author by Waterstones at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, October 2013.