Auction house owner Rod Menzies dies at 76

“It would not have been possible for Rod to convey his vision of the Australian art trade without having a financial interest in the shares that were bought and sold, and Menzies has been completely open book with potential buyers on this period,” Cameron said.

“Much of the speculation about his business practices was driven by jealous competitors, political correctness or tall poppy syndrome.”

Shaking up art auctions

Born in Melbourne in 1945, the only son of a caterer father and a seamstress mother, Rod Menzies went on to earn millions in the contract cleaning business before shaking up the art auction industry.

In the late 1990s he launched a new auction house in what many thought was a crowded market, with international giants Sotheby’s and Christie’s vying for business, and local company Leonard Joel lagging behind. Menzies convinced Melbourne art dealer Chris Deutscher to join him and in 1998 they opened Deutscher-Menzies.

Rod Menzies, left, with business partner Chris Deutsche in 2000. Catherine Tremain

Deustcher was initially skeptical of the plan – “I just said to him, ‘That’s a crazy idea,'” says Deutscher. However, he now thanks Menzies for giving him his chance in the auction business.

“I am grateful to Rod who in 1997 was then a collector/customer and saw the potential for another auction house in what seemed like a crowded market. He was certainly enthusiastic. At first he was also keen to open in the United States.

Deutscher left Menzies in 2006 to start his own auction house, Deutscher and Hackett.

In the space of three years, Deutscher-Menzies has overtaken Christie’s and nudged Sotheby’s. In 2004, Deutscher-Menzies was the market leader, with sales of $30.1 million, compared with $21.3 million at Sotheby’s and $15 million at Christie’s. Sotheby’s caught up and continued to take on Menzies, but Christie’s pulled out of the race in 2007, closing its Australian branch.

“Kudos to him for changing the dynamic of the whole business, regardless of his trading style,” says Denis Savill, a retired Sydney art dealer who was an early client.

Impressionist and Modernist

“The business will strive to continue, but it won’t be with the boost Menzies has given it,” Savill says.

Before Menzies became Sotheby’s biggest rival, he was one of the auction house’s biggest clients and remained a client even after he launched his auction business.

Menzies began collecting Australian art in the early 1990s, from Adelaide dealers Jim and Helen Elder, before extending his interests to international Impressionist and Modernist art.

Cameron vividly remembers his father arriving at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport in 1997 from Los Angeles, with a Degas painting of a ballerina, bought at auction in New York, stowed in his carry-on, a means of transport that his insurer did not particularly like.

Cameron worked with his father for nearly a decade, from 2010 to 2019, and has long been slated as his likely successor. Could he take on the role of his father?

“Anything is possible in this world,” Cameron says, “but I would like to state for the record that there are no significant openings currently, and that Rod’s gratitude and faith in the team there [at Menzies] was at an all time high. “

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