Dan Klein

Dan Klein 1938 - 2009

by Peter Davies

A rich and full life; Dan Klein was a renaissance man, with a passion for glass. No one has done more to develop, support and promote British and contemporary glass. The glass world has lost its public face and a main player.

Dan Klein was born in Bombay in 1938, educated at Westminster School and Wadham College, Oxford, where he read Greats. After graduating he studied singing and was an opera and lieder singer from 1966-78. A soloist with Sadler’s Wells, a member of Benjamin Britten’s English Opera Group 1968-73, he then gave performances with his own ensemble.

Furthering his interests in 20th Century Decorative Arts and Contemporary Glass, Dan opened a London gallery in 1978. Christopher Dresser and The Aesthetic Movement were amongst the exhibitions and catalogues produced. Solo ceramics shows by British artists, John Piper, Ivor Abrams and Quentin Bell were held, 1980-83. Masters of Czech Glass, 1983, introduced Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtiová to the outside world, with artwork being purchased by: The V&A, Manchester City Art Gallery, Corning Museum of Glass and other museums.

In 1984 Dan Klein joined Christie’s as Director of 20th. Century Decorative Arts with responsibilities for sales in Monaco, Amsterdam and Geneva. In 1989 in addition he became Vice President of Christie’s, Switzerland, and soon after moved to Geneva until he left Christie’s in 1995. Whilst there, he established highest prices for Lalique, Galle and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. His skills as an auctioneer were later to benefit glass charity auctions.

Klein’s main area of interest was the art of contemporary glass worldwide, from its beginnings in the 1960s, to what he saw as full flowering of glass art forty years later. Contemporary glass created by independent artists in their studios, away from any industrial or factory environment.

Dan Klein was Professor and Head of Glass and Ceramics at the University of Sunderland, 1996-99 - a post I currently hold. Dan, with the Dean, Professor Flavia Swann, was responsible for the creation of a major European centre of higher education in glass - now with MA and PhD, research and reach-out programmes. Later as a Visiting Professor he chaired The Institute of International Research in Glass.

The opening of the National Glass Centre, Sunderland, 1998, with its lively programme, was a remarkable achievement. Dan was a founder member and then a dedicated Board member. Also he actively supported Cohesion Glass Network, the UK glass artists’ membership society, sponsored by Sunderland City Council.

Dan’s contribution to the wider understanding and appreciation of creative glass has been immense. This took many forms, across a wide front - as a gallery director, curator, auctioneer, lecturer, researcher, writer, board member, juror, consultant and advisor. Indeed I can’t think of a glass area that he was not involved with; mostly though I see him as a professional activator and volunteer, with a boyish smile, freely giving his time.

The honours came, but he wore these effortlessly, and he repaid them with interest. He had abundant energy, knew how systems worked and made things happen. Driven by an international vision of quality he strove for high performance. Anything sub-standard, or perceived as devaluing the enterprise, he challenged.  

Dan helped, advised and supported many individual students and artists. He was proud to be Patron of the Guild of Glass Engravers, a Lifetime Honorary member of the Contemporary Glass Society and President of the Scottish Glass Society.

Dan Klein became the voice for contemporary glass. He was a gifted lecturer and public speaker, with the ability to put the art of glass into a wider visual and cultural context. In 2005, for instance, he gave lectures on; Emile Galle at Broadfield House Glass Museum, for the International Festival of Glass; Czech Glass at the V&A; and European Glass at the Australian National Gallery, Canberra.

A prolific writer, Klein was a regular contributor to journals and specialist magazines. He wrote books, notably, Artists in Glass, Late Twentieth Century Masters in Glass, 2001, one of the first global surveys of the art of contemporary glass. Also Klein contributed to many monographs, such as, Ann Schaefer-Ann Wärff-Ann Wolff 2002, and Zora Palová t pán Pala 2008, and to numerous exhibition catalogues. He audio interviewed Joel Philip Myers for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, 2007.

Dan curated many exhibitions, notably; Venezia Aperto Vetro, the Venice Glass Biennal in 1996 and again in 1998; ‘21st Century British Glass’ at Daniel Katz Ltd. Bond Street, London (2005); ‘Reflections: A Decade of North Lands Creative Glass’ at the National Museums of Scotland (2006); and Four Decades of Glass Graduates from the Royal College of Art, 1967-2007, with Adrian Sassoon, at the V&A 2007.

Dan Klein, a distinguished linguist, became a major European figure in glass. He chaired the Jerwood Applied Arts Prize (2002) that was awarded to Helen Maurer. Amongst many, he was a jury member for: Bombay Sapphire, Coburg Glass Prize 2006, Corning Glass Review Panel 2006, Ebeltoft Museum ‘Young Glass Prize’ 2007, and Pilchuck’s ‘Emerging Artists’ program.  He was also a board member of the Coburg Glass Museum, Germany, and Pilchuck, USA.

Dan Klein and Alan J. Poole, his long-term partner, deserve particular credit for establishing a contemporary glass database and for the unsung graft in publishing the monthly glass e-newsletter. This provides an indispensable network/information service for UK/European glass art constituencies.

Informed and with trading skills, Dan was able to build up a major collection of British and Irish Glass. Some 300 artworks are to be generously donated to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh.

A lasting legacy is North Lands Creative Glass established in 1996, which is an open access glass studio in a converted school in Lybster, Caithness. Modelled on the USA summer school it offers a range of short courses for glass practitioners of different levels. It is a wonderful place for artistic practice, which at the same time culturally and economically benefits an isolated community in NE Scotland. Appropriate then that The Dan Klein Memorial Fund is dedicated to its development.

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