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OBITUARY:Guillaume Gallozzi

If the best art dealers have a fictitious quality, Guillaume Gallozzi was great indeed and, despite his precocious demise at 37, more worthy of a novel than a brief obituary. As a Frenchman in New York specialising in British 20th-century art, Gallozzi was at an unfair advantage when it came to cosmopolitan charisma but it was his savoir-vivre that made him altogether novelistic, a character from a collaboration between Tom Wolfe and Henri de Montherlant.

Born in the shadow of de Sade's chateau, Gallozzi was a flag-carrying anarchist schoolboy in Nantes, home town to such kindred spirits as Alfred Jarry and Jacques Vache. He moved to America in 1976 and after semi-clandestine activities in California relocated to Manhattan. Helping establish the groundbreaking night-club Pravda, Gallozzi was a central part of the late Seventies "scene", when New York really was New York.

Paradoxically, renowned for arcane European interests, Gallozzi became familiar with that most fashionable movement, "Graffiti". Setting up a loft where young black spraycan artists lived and worked in situ, he achieved celebrity and wealth, introducing them to the Basel Art Fair, creating a hip-hop spectacle for Valentino's 25th anniversary, taking his "Art Train" round America. Despite never owning a credit card Gallozzi maintained a series of anonymous accounts in Austrian banks, travelled in private jets and ran an art-smuggling ring through the Italian lakes.

Graffiti was short-lived, and after building collections for optimistic Belgian and Dutch magnates Gallozzi jumped swiftly, landing at a magnificent house on West Houston Street once owned by Barney Rossett, founder of Grove Press, where the likes of Samuel Beckett had stayed. By now Gallozzi was dealing "Aeropittura", Futurist plane paintings and British Neo-Romantics, not automatically lucrative areas. His connoisseur's approach to the byways of art history, the cultivation of neglected footnote figures, led Gallozzi's tastes to be described in the New Yorker as "old-fashioned, decidedly recherche".

Five years ago his inoperable brain tumour appeared. Left for dead at Bellevue hospital, surrounded by criminals, Gallozzi borrowed enough for a Concorde to Paris whereupon he was immediately arrested for avoiding military service. Released with diplomatic assistance Gallozzi was, seemingly, miraculously cured by a specialist to whom he dedicated his comeback Manhattan show, "Metamorphose". Later exhibitions ranged from Brion Gysin, the cult kif avantgardist, to Steven Sykes, an octogenarian English recluse who had never shown previously, but subsequently exhibited at the Redfern Gallery in London as a result.

Under financial pressure Gallozzi left his legendary townhouse, where in May 1995 he held a last benefit exhibition of 30 contemporary artists who donated work, including several portraits of himself, his playboy features having undergone interesting redefinition, slightly cross-eyed like Whistler's Robert de Montesquieu redone by Picasso. Gallozzi made one last grand tour of Italy, where he stayed every summer, often for months, with an extraordinary variety of collectors, artists, poets and aristocrats, one link in his chain of seemingly inexhaustible admirers.

The merest anecdotal elements of Gallozzi's presence justified this network of affection, from his 4pm lunches to cork-tipped Craven A cigarettes in the fridge, tailor-made Cifonelli suits and monogrammed Turnbull & Asser shirts. That they were other people's monograms added to the mystique, an extensive wardrobe of handmade hand-me-downs. Muffled in fur-collared coat, with bearskin hat and walking stick, he was easily mistaken for royalty in exile, Zog perhaps.

Of the mysterious, rich prose deployed in his catalogues he provided a final example:

Refusing galvanisation into the Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries, Gallozzi is cutting the ropes and going to peer at farther shores, driven by survival instincts, calling, riding the bright wake ahead.

Adrian Dannatt

Guillaume Gallozzi, art dealer: born 11 February 1958; died Paris 25 December 1995.