Dan Klein at the podium, where he presided over major art sales at Christie's and Phillips auction houses, as well as benefits for glass institutions. (photo from the website of Dan Klein Associates)
Dan Klein, founding director of North Lands Creative Glass in northeast Scotland, prolific author on art made from glass, art dealer, and the former director of 20th century decorative art for Christie’s auctions, died of complications resulting from cancer on Sunday, June 28. With his passing, the world of art made from glass loses one of its most eloquent presenters, whether from behind the auction podium, in one of his many exhibition catalog essays, or quoted in a major newspaper such as The Financial Times, where, earlier this month, Klein was the subject of an article on the “breakthrough” of glass onto the contemporary art scene.
Impeccably groomed and tailored, Klein brought a refined British pedigree to the sometimes scruffy world of glass art and sculpture as he applied his considerable energy to advance the acceptance of glass as an expressive medium. As auctioneer for the Penland and UrbanGlass benefits, among others, Klein was a polished and, at times, demanding presence, always quick to remind glass collectors that they were attending a charity event and not bargain hunting. His uncompromising tone was an expression of his strong conviction that important work in glass was currently undervalued in the marketplace, and he worked tirelessly to change that.
Born on November 4, 1938, in Mumbai, India, Klein attended Westminster School (1951-1957) in London and Wadham College, Oxford University (1957-1961), where he earned a bachelor of arts degree and graduated with honors. After leaving Oxford, Klein studied singing and pursued a successful career as an opera singer from 1966 to 1978.
In 1978, he opened a gallery in London that specialized in 20th century decorative arts and contemporary glass. Among the most important exhibitions he produced were shows of work by Christopher Dresser and one titled “Masters Of Czech Glass”, which, in 1983, introduced the world to the full scope of work being done behind the Iron Curtain, helping to launch the Western careers of Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova.
In 1984, Klein joined Christie’s auction house in King Street, London, as director of 20th century decorative arts. Over the next 11 years, Klein organized auctions that set record prices for work by Lalique and Galle, records which remain unbroken to this day. Even as he climbed the ranks of experts in decorative arts, Klein always maintained his special interest in all kinds of Post-War and contemporary glass since the mid-1970s, and he was one of the first people in England to collect and write about it. In 1984, just before joining Christie’s, his private collection of 1950s glass was sold at Sotheby’s.
Dan Klein is the author and editor of many notable books including Glass: A Contemporary Art, published in 1989. His 2001 book, Artists In Glass: Late Twentieth Century Masters In Glass, features the work of 80 artists and remains a valuable reference to many experts in the field. After Klein left Christie’s in early 1995, he worked with the German glass and ceramic company Rosenthal, and as an art consultant for an international law firm. In January 1996, he was named “Professor In Glass” at the University Of Sunderland, now based at the National Glass Centre, and was also appointed as a founding director of North Lands Creative Glass, an annual international summer school for contemporary glass in north-eastern Scotland at Lybster which he helped to create. That same year, Klein also started in partnership with Alan J. Poole as Dan Klein Associates, promoting contemporary glass with an emphasis on the work of artists from Britain and Ireland.
In 1997 Klein began consulting for Phillips International Auctioneers & Valuers and was appointed international executive director in 1998. Later that year he returned to Venice for the second time to organize and curate the second Venezia Aperto Vetro – International Biennale, following up on the success of the first event he organized there in 1996
After leaving the auction world in 2001, Klein worked as a freelance writer, lecturer, exhibition curator, guest auctioneer, and specialist on contemporary glass matters together with his partner Alan J. Poole. Klein was a patron of The Guild Of Glass Engravers, a lifetime honorary member of the Contemporary Glass Society and president of the Scottish Glass Society.
Contacted by email, Jennifer Opie, former senior curator of ceramics and glass at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London told GLASS that: “Dan was full of plans for glass when I last saw him about two weeks ago. He was as enthusiastic as ever about British glass in particular, which he was very active in promoting as you know — as well as being so much in demand in the States, Europe and Australia for glass events of all sorts.”
On Monday, Iain Gunn, president of the board of directors of North Lands Creative Glass, sent out an announcement that captured the mood shared by so many in the glass community.We shall all miss Dan tremendously as a friend and colleague. He was a man of many talents and great company who made an outstanding contribution to the appreciation and development of Studio Glass both in the U.K. and worldwide … Dan has made a particularly valuable contribution to North Lands over the past 18 months as honorary artistic director, giving freely of his advice and time in spite of failing health. He will leave an enormous gap in our lives.
—Andrew Page (with additional reporting by Brett Nuckles)