Alexander Gilkes is a Londoner come New York transplant, the former head of marketing and Chief auctioneer for Phillips de Pury, the husband of fashion designer Misha Nonoo, a member of Vanity Fair's "Best Dressed List," and an old intern of Stanley Kubrick's circa Eyes Wide Shut. Yet it's for none of these prestigious accolades that he's most frequently applauded. Of higher notoriety than any title, Gilkes is the co-founder of Paddle8—the online auction house that's reshaping the way that art, design, and collectibles can be bought and sold, and redefining the very essence of what it means to be a collector.
"I had two very different recognitions that led to the launch of site in 2011," says Gilkes. "First, I was working as an auctioneer at Phillips de Pury and I could see that the brick-and-mortar mode of auctions didn't lead to easy accessibility for collectors. Further to that, I was spending an inordinate amount of time on eBay, sieving through 1960's film and music posters–the condition of which I couldn't trust had been properly validated." Add the auction world's disregard for collectibles under $100,000 into the mix, and Gilkes saw an untapped gap in the market for an auction platform that related to the demands of the global digital age. "We launched with a view of creating the auction house of tomorrow. I didn't feel there was any where that lacked intimidation or made collecting affordable, safe, and easy," he explains.
Articulating what many prominent figures in the art world agreed to be the future of selling their work or the work of artists that they represent, Gilkes and his Paddle8 co-founders Aditya Julka and Osman Khan, soon won the backing of art-world insiders Damien Hirst, Jay Jopling, Alexander von Furstenberg, and the Mellon family, as well as tech investors behind Uber, Warby Parker, Vimeo, and Buzzfeed, and the upward trajectory of the site's fate was sealed. The pool from which Gilkes could cherry-pick rare antiquities and memorabilia for prospective buyers was also widened. "We started with contemporary art and then included design auctions. Now we've run everything from rare sneakers to Frank Sinatra’s driving license and Kurt Cobain's credit card," recites Gilkes when probed for a selection of the most unusual pieces.
As for his personal collection, that too is evolving along with Paddle8's expansion. "When I look back at the beginning of my collection, I am amazed to see how it has evolved. The more you see, the more your visual acuity and taste develops. I had no education in art nor auctions when I started, so my foray into the auction world was one bold running bomb into the deep end" One such example is the first piece that Gilkes ever purchased which has since been relegated to a quiet spot above the photocopier in his office, at the behest of his wife. "When collectors make their first steps into buying art, many prefer to approach via formats that offer more accessible subject matters and formats like photography or street art," he explains. "Then as your taste and knowledge sharpen, I think that editions make a comfortable next step—particularly if you don't have a big budget, but want to buy into an artist whose stock is soaring and whose legacy is ensured."
For those who are happy to share their collection at home, the setting is of equal importance to the acquisition “Framing can be expensive, but it makes all the difference in elevating the work. I love to hang works in salon style with the pieces arranged in a cramped and wonky setting” says Gilkes. If it’s a larger piece and if your wall space allows, he recommends hanging it alone to maximize impact. Light damage is the silent enemy of any collector, so investing in the proper materials to filter ultra-violet lights is a must.
More than anything, Gilkes contends that whether you’re rich, famous, an oligarch, or just someone who’s saving up for something special to put in your home, you should only ever buy pieces that you truly adore. “I advise my friends to look as extensively as their time allows, to seek the advice of those in the know, read around the artists that appeal to them and understand what the valid sources are. There are certain galleries that I often pop into and try to always visit the most respected art fairs, which include Frieze, Art Basel, NADA, and LISTE and to detect the emergent stars, but it’s a dangerous game to be a prospector—you have to form your own opinion. The ultimate thing is that you really have to love what you buy.”