‘It’s a time to do things, not think’: Danny Katz on the art of dealing and not overthinking in a pandemic

Danny Katz in his Mayfair gallery © Guihlem Alandry

When Danny Katzs parents cut-price petrol business went bust in the 1960s, they opened an antiques shop in Brighton using their last £2,000. “I was 18 and not doing much so I went around the country buying little bits and pieces for the shop. Id buy something for £5, sell it for £10. Ive never had a job in my life,” says the London art and antiques dealer.

Today, Katz has a large—and lavish—gallery in a Mayfair townhouse on Hill Street, from which he deals in everything “from Renaissance sculpture to antiquities, to Modern British to Impressionist paintings to Old Masters, ceramics, furniture,” he says.

Now Katz, who turns 72 tomorrow, is selling off some of this eclectic stock through an online sale with Sothebys, Refining Taste: Works Selected by Danny Katz (20-27 May). Ten of the 140 lots in the auction will be sold in aid of two charities who are helping those in need during the pandemic: The Trussell Trust, which provides food banks across the UK, and Refuge, which helps those suffering from domestic abuse.

This is the second sale Katz has had with Sothebys (the first was in 2013) and he says of his decision: “After more than 50 years of being a dealer, Im just changing my business model. Im not saying Im going to retire, just change. I might close the gallery eventually, I dont know yet, and work with fewer objects at the top end of the market.” Instead of 50 sales a year, he now wants to concentrate on two or three big ones, “a Houdin bust, a Canova or a great Renaissance bronze, or a wonderful Bridget Riley.”

Walter Sickert's Vineyards, Bath (around 1941), estimated at £12,000-18,000 Courtesy of Sotheby's

It was a Hungarian émigré antiques dealer called Michael Travers who instructed a young Katz “in how to be a gentleman dealer. He introduced me to a world of Persian carpets, Renaissance bronzes, incunabula, books, 19th century drawings, the music of Bach.” He introduced Katz to John Pope Hennessy, the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and then Anthony Radcliffe, who was head of sculpture at the V&A at the time. Katz, who describes himself as an autodidact, spent every morning in the V&A studying Renaissance bronzes: “I was such a pain in the arse, they let me handle them all. And then every night Id be down at the disco. So, it was a strange world—disco dancing and Renaissance bronzes”.

Since then, Katz has admits he has had “some amazing, life changing deals" to be where he is now: "Ive been very lucky.”

Of the Sothebys sale, Katz says: “I bought everything because I loved it, not for commercial reasons. I have to have an affinity with everything I buy. The estimates for some of these things are ridiculously low and hopefully they will go higher. But there are opportunities for people to buy beautiful Scandinavian art, 19th century art, Modern British art, Renaissance sculpture…top objects at very reasonable prices.” Auctions of the stock or collections of well-known dealers such as Katz have done well in recent years. But Katz says: “I dont really know if my name means anything. I suppose some people might think it does. But Ive never really thought of myself as anything other than an independent dealer in many fields.”

Such eclecticism was born out of a “fascination and curiosity with the best things of human endeavour.” He started off with 19th century bronze animalier sculptures, then expanded into Viennese Secessionism, then to antiquities: “You see one thing and you read the history and find out whats going on in one particular country at the time—socially, economically, politically, environmentally, culturally—and you find that one thing morphs into another field. If you collect Renaissance sculpture then you ultimately have to look back to the ancient world which is what they tried to reproduce.”

The sale was, Katz says, planned before the coronavirus crisis hit (“we were talking at the beginning of February”), although it was initially planned as a live auction, not an online sale. “But they [Sothebys] seem to have had quite a lot of success with selling things online,” Katz says. Is he disappointed that it wont be a live sale? Katz pauses. “No, not really. I mean, I attend some live sales and Im about the only bidder in the room in some of them. I dont think live sales are really necessary. You could have a live sale but no one would need to be there, it could all be on the telephone or online. I think thats the way forward.”

Selecting the works to sell “was tough”, Katz says. “Some, in the end, I just couldnt bear to part with so I withdrew them. Ill think about what to do with those another time.” He adds: “There arent any terribly expensive works in there, because Im not sure that an online auction would be able to sell a £2m work of art.”

James Jebusa Shannon's Estelle. Estimate £50,000-70,000 Courtesy of Sotheby's

The one area Katz isnt interested in is contemporary art, other than, he says, “it fascinates me because of how incredibly successful it is. How it has become a sort of lifestyle, a culture that you buy into. Its massive, much bigger than any market that Ive ever dealt in.” The rest of the art and antiques trade, he thinks, “isnt really a market—its people dealing in and specialising in certain fields. Contemporary art is the only true market out there in the art world—theres literally a price for everything.” People dont buy a Gericault or a Delacroix out of speculation, he thinks: “They buy it because its rare and wonderful. With contemporary art, its the opposite: the more people own them, the more people want them. The idea of rarity I dont think exists.”

The sale includes works by Johann Joseph Zoffany, Paul Nash, Frank Dobson, Graham SutherlaRead More – Source