A question of synergy: an interview with Gilles Dyan, founder of Opera Gallery

 Paris  |  14 May 2015  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

Since it was founded in 1994 by Gilles Dyan, Opera Gallery has not stopped expanding: from Seoul to Paris, passing through Beirut and Dubai. Most recently, the gallery’s Parisian branch has installed itself in the “Masion du Bonheur”, the former home of the perfume house Roger et Gallet. Art Media Agency looked to discover this new space, which houses the works of artists as diverse as Calder, Miró, Giacometti, Soulages, and Yue Minjun, and had the chance to speak with its founder.

So you recently changed address…
We were installed in the Place Vendôme for around 20 years, until the building was bought by a branch of the LMVH group almost three years ago. After we established the contract for us to move out, at the end of last year, we moved to the heart of the Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré. We now benefit from a great 1000 square-metre space, which is 800 square-metres more than the 350 square-metre space we had previously. What’s more, this space is much better for displaying our works.

What do you hope will come of this new space?
We present works by artists from around the world, both established and emerging, from masters of the 20th century, and Impressionism to American Pop art. We opened the space with “Grand Opening”, an exhibition which displayed a range of works by our artists. We hope to put on between five and seven exhibitions a year, one every two months. The next, which is to take place in June, is to be dedicated to the Indian artist Valay Shende.

You also work with artists from emerging scenes such as Azerbaijan. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation?
We’ve conducted some commercial exchanges with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Last September, we even organised, a three-month long exhibition dedicated to Bernard Buffet. We displayed around 50 works from both our collection and from Buffet’s endowment. We used this opportunity to approach some Azerbaijani artists who we like, and to display them at our Dubai and Beirut locations. We’re currently talking about opening a gallery in Azerbaijan, even if the economic climate (with the fall of their currency) is not particularly favourable at the moment.

You’ve also been linked to South Korea…
We work with museums such as Seoul Arts Centre with whom we organised an exhibition entitled “From Renoir to Damien Hirst”, which was a huge success. We also worked with South Korea, partly by chance, when one of our regular clients wanted to open an Opera Gallery there. That joint venture was now eight years ago. Business is good in South Korea.

How do you choose your artists?
If the artist is alive, we buy the works we like, which we think are beautiful, and which we will go on to sell. The advantage of having a network of galleries is that we can buy works from Japanese artists such as Kusama Yayoi in places like Dubai, for the best price, and go on to sell them in the American or Asian market. As for the secondary market, we partake in a lot of artwork trading. When it comes to contemporary painters, we take care of everything, whether that be producing catalogues or books, with two people working full-time on institutional relations, working with museums and foundations. We follow artists in a very methodical way and help them in whatever way we can.

How long have you been working with young artists?
We’ve always supported young artists; that’s what makes our job interesting. Selling works by the masters is nice enough, but it’s easy. Working with emerging artists, figuring out how to market their work and establishing a place for them on the world scene, whether by holding exhibitions or publishing books, is even better. It’s a constructive process, but also a risk, since you can never be sure of the return on your investment.

Which artists are you working with at the moment?
At the moment we’re working with, amongst others, a street artist called Seen, whose work was first shown at Sidney Janis in New York in 1981 alongside Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His notoriety means that you’ll find his work in lots of museums and foundations. We’ve also been working with an Italian artist, Umberto Mariani, who is part of Group Zero along with Lucio Fontana and Enrico Castellani, and who paints monochromes on lead, and David Mach, a sculptor who previously worked with Jérôme de Noirmont in Paris, but who we already represented outside France. We represent some of our artists worldwide, and others in certain countries. Some artists have a universal appeal, but we often adapt our exhibitions depending on the tastes of a particular country, based on what we pick up after a couple of years there and what we learn from local collectors. There are times when, if an artist isn’t popular in a certain country, it is up to us to defend them and stir up interest through exhibitions.

Are the collectors mostly international, or do they prefer to buy in their home countries?
The collectors tend to be very mobile and travel a lot. Our business model complements this lifestyle; our New York clients can visit us when in Paris. Of our French clients last year, those living in France represented only 15% of our business. In Hong Kong, locals account for 80% of our sales, whilst in Singapore the figure is only 60%. That said, there are no real rules. In London it is similar to Paris, in that roughly 10-20% of our clients live in the city, whilst the rest are expats or business travellers. In New York it is half and half. In Beirut we haven’t been open for long, but so far 100% of our clients have been Lebanese.

Fairs represent a growing share of the market – what is your presence in fairs?
We are still not very present in fairs, though it is important to have a presence in the larger fairs that attract visitors from around the world, where attendees come to buy works. We need a team dedicated to developing our fair presence, in particular at the most important fairs such as Art Basel, TEFAF, and FIAC.

How do you hope to develop in coming years?
We would like to expand the American side of our business, and hope to open four new branches in the next two years including a new space in New York, one in Aspen, and another in Los Angeles, and our existing space in Miami.

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