Published: September 3, 2019
Life evolves. Folk art dealers Penny and Allan Katz both came to the antiques business from completely different backgrounds. Penny, a native of Wilkes-Barre, Penn., has a BS in Social Work and an MSW from Columbia University. A lifelong interest in the art world was always in the background of a 28-year career as a social worker in the fields of mental health psychiatry and medicine. Brooklyn, N.Y., native Allan studied economics, and he was the CFO of an industrial electronics company in Connecticut for 14 years. He got his start in the antiques business by collecting early American advertising, gradually expanding his focus to include American folk art and Americana. After the sale of his company in 1983, he followed his passion and began dealing full time. The couple of 27 years recently teamed up with Antiques Roadshow’s Dan Farrell to acquire the General Electric corporate art collection. Antiques and The Arts Weekly sat down with Allan and Penny to learn more about the collection and what the couple are doing these days.
You recently acquired the G.E. art collection. What is it, how was it assembled and what are some of its strengths and highlights?
PK: The collection was installed on a rotating basis on two floors of 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City and their 60-acre corporate headquarters in Fairfield, Conn. As part of the corporate art mission, key pieces were exhibited for public viewing, loaned to museums as well as conducting art tours of the collection at 30 Rock. During the period of acquisition between the late 1960’s and 2010, the G.E. curatorial team was employed to acquire works of realism, abstraction, expressionism, minimalism and pop art in all mediums consisting of paintings, works on paper, photography, collage, limited edition prints, mono-prints and sculpture. It features many notable women artists, such as Ani Albers, Emily Mason, Miriam Schapiro, Judy Pfaff and Tula Telfair.
What were the circumstances around its coming to market and how did you get involved?
AK: When G.E. moved its headquarters to Boston in 2017, the decision was made to sell the collection. We had been introduced to G.E.’s art curator one year earlier and at some point, he informed us that G.E. made the decision not to move and reinstall the collection in Boston. It was an opportunity for us – in a formal partnership with Dan Farrell and his wife, Mary Nelen – to purchase the majority of the General Electric Company’s Corporate Art Collection. Penny and I had just decided not to return to the Winter Show, which was extremely time consuming. So, “Timing is everything!”
How many pieces are in the collection?
PK: It is over 1,600 artworks! It has been a huge undertaking.
What are you doing with the collection?
PK: We have just finished cataloging the collection, and we are currently constructing a marketing plan. The G.E. collection has given us all a unique opportunity to explore a completely new segment of the art universe. Our day-to-day focus varies between what may need to be done to move the collection closer to market as well as our continued love for American folk art.
Your business name is Allan Katz Americana, but you do not do it alone. Can you describe your partnership?
AK: Penny is involved in most every aspect of the business. From research, paperwork to cataloging the G.E. collection to acquisition decisions. She has an amazing eye for quality, color and design. We have never had a full-time employee, so we both do it all. Our business is very social. Most clients would rather talk to her than me. That’s what great partnerships are all about. She gave up her career to join me in the business.
Are you still doing ‘Antiques Roadshow?’ Did you see anything great over the summer that might be featured in the upcoming season?
AK: Absolutely. I have been with the show for 16 years! We now tape in the spring at museums and historic sites. No more convention centers. It’s great not having to travel all summer. I can’t discuss this year’s great finds, but we always seem to turn up several.
You have recently moved from Woodbridge, Conn., to Madison, Conn. What prompted the move to Madison, and what can you tell us about your new space?
PK: We decided we needed a change! We moved from a contemporary home nestled in the woods of Woodbridge to the shoreline town of Madison, which we fell in love with after my son moved here five years ago. Two of our grandkids live two miles from us. Surprisingly, we purchased an 1830 Greek Revival that had just been rebuilt, yet we managed to gut it and rebuild it the way we envisioned it. It’s quite contemporary inside, yet has the charm of a period house. We have also built a gallery on the property where we will continue to see clients, both old and new, by appointment. The gallery will continue to focus on American Folk Art. It has taken about a year to complete and it has given us the opportunity to check all the boxes on our wish list. Madison is a picturesque town and is close to New Haven, which has a great culture base, and the Connecticut shoreline has a very active arts community. Relocating was exhausting, but we are settling in nicely.
Are you still actively trading in traditional/historic folk art? Any recent notable finds?
AK: Yes, we are still relatively active. This has been a hectic transitional year for us. Our new gallery has allowed us to separate the collection from our inventory. The collection is installed in the house, along with many other art pieces that we have collected over the years. We have used pieces from the G.E. collection to spice things up a bit. Notable new finds have been few and far apart; however, great pieces do become available from time to time from older clients with mature collections.
Are you willing to share the latest update of the faked “Bingham Secretary?”
AK: Yes, of course. Harold Gordon has pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and awaits sentencing on October 25 in New Haven Federal Court. The so-called “Bingham Secretary” is in our possession. We plan on donating it to an institution that might be receptive to having it.
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