Catherine Saks believes that “Being interested in art is bigger than being interested in something to decorate the walls. It’s being interested in culture—our culture—and ourselves.” Fortunately for the artists they represent from all over the world and their well-traveled clients, Catherine and her husband Mikkel Saks own and run Saks Galleries, which has been family owned and operated for 50 years.
Saks Galleries was originally founded by Mikkel’s father in 1963. A Danish immigrant, Lemon Saks sought to bring collectible European art to the Denver market. Today, his son’s family continues his legacy by serving as art brokers and appraisers. Respectful of the gallery’s past, Mikkel explains that “Saks Galleries was originally famous for 19th century paintings … but we are very much into current trends. Yet we still have that expertise in old things.”
According to Mikkel, Saks Galleries is “right on top of what is happening today.” A Saks Galleries customer can be assured of the significance of their piece and not just in terms of monetary value. “The people who buy things from us are getting artists that we’ve vetted and are currently important, either artistically or socially and you know we’re really offering a service that’s really hard to find.”
They make it a point to keep up with the current trends and per Mikkel, “the world has turned modern. We’re looking for post-impressionist ideas that have to do with color and form and line … and these are issues that artists have dealt with for centuries.”
Catherine and Mikkel use a combination of skill and talent to choose the artists whom they represent. Mikkel describes his process by noting that “we look at the quality of the artist, the artistic merit, do they have original themes, the price point … an artist can ask whatever they want, but we will not represent an artist who is overpriced in the market.” He also recognizes the human element present in attraction to art, ruminating that “people looking at a painting … they may not know why they’re drawn to it, but they are and it’s so interesting, actually to watch. You can have two paintings, side by side, both by well-known artists and people will be drawn to one thing and not another.”
He’s also quick to honor his wife’s influence on the business: “Catherine is very good with relationships. It’s a group effort to make it all work out. We will not represent an artist that we would not be happy to go have lunch with. Catherine is the one who actually selects the artists we represent. Everything that is visible to the public is generally done by Catherine.”
One of the many assets that Catherine brings to the business is her eagerness to work with young collectors. She begins the process by asking a new client what speaks to them. As she says, “We’re here to help guide you to that connection by discussing the elements of the painting, why you might be gravitating toward that particular palette or composition, and to help clarify for you why it might be a worthwhile purchase. We can explain why it’s not just a canvas, stretcher and $20 worth of paint. We only represent mid-career artists, simply because we want our collectors to see that value that comes from time, just like any other genre, you don’t just pick up a paintbrush and produce quality work.”
Though Saks Galleries boasts the quality, service and attention that one would expect from a local gallery with a storied history, it can still access art from across the globe. While Mikkel isn’t interested in social media himself, he’s pleased that “Everything’s connected. That’s the interesting thing about the change the internet has made, everything is international today. Something is just as salable right here as it is in New York, London or China.” The gallery has facilitated global transactions and only anticipates this business increasing.
The other important part of the business is appraisals, according to Catherine. “It’s always been important but it’s becoming increasingly important. Insurance companies will no longer just take your word for it—now you need a certified appraisal, and Mikkel has had his certification since 1984. He’s been writing appraisals for a long time.” Indeed, as estates increasingly unload their wares, be it paintings, sculpture, jewelry and more, the appraisal business is positioned for substantial growth.
The future of this family business may rest in the hands of the next generation: Bekka Saks, appraiser and art consultant. “Bekka has become a generalist which is a great, great title to have. She’s positioned herself so that she’s very valuable,” according to her mother. Her father agrees: “The IRS is very involved in the art business, such as with complicated tax issues. For someone like Bekka, with the certifications that she has, there are only about 1,000 appraisers in the country.”
It’s apparent that this iteration of Saks Galleries has proved itself more than equal to its formidable legacy and that it is well-situated for the future. And while Mikkel and Catherine are “continuing to reinvent ourselves and remain relevant,” as Mikkel says, some things about Saks Galleries remain just as always have—unparalleled knowledge, a talented team, and a dog-friendly space, including treats and water for furry friends.
Saks Galleries, Cherry Creek
3019 E. Second Ave., Denver, CO 80206
Elizabeth Kosar is a Denver-based writer and communications strategist. Her passion for art began at an early age when she requested to paint on her first day of preschool. While painting was not on the agenda for day one, it was added to the schedule for day two.
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