‘We are a welcoming gallery’

By Korea Herald

Opera Gallery chairman Dyan sees success mixing contemporary works with 20th-century masterpieces

  • Published : Jul 18, 2014 - 20:40
  • Updated : Jul 18, 2014 - 21:20
Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Warhol, Hirst ― these are just a few of the artists, the greats who are immediately recognized by their last name alone, whose original works will hang at the Hangaram Museum at Seoul Arts Center until Sept. 17.

“The Great Artists of the 20th Century: From Renoir to Damien Hirst,” an exhibition organized by the Opera Gallery Group in celebration of its 20th anniversary, is a unique opportunity to view in a single venue 104 original pieces of the 53 leading artists of the 20th century.

“The highlight of the exhibition is a Monet painting depicting a snow scene, priced at $10 million. There are many masterpieces and a very, very rare Giacometti painting. There is Haring, Warhol, Hirst. It is a nice collection that covers all of the 20th century. It is the concept we have in the gallery, mixing everything up,” said Gilles Dyan, chairman of the Paris-based Opera Gallery Group, at a plush office of Opera Gallery Seoul in southern Seoul. All of the exhibited pieces are available for purchase.
Gilles Dyan, chairman of Opera Gallery Group, speaks with the Korea Herald at the Opera Gallery Seoul office in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul. (Meeya Kim/Opera Gallery Seoul)

The Opera Gallery Group, the first worldwide network of art galleries, currently has 11 exhibition spaces around the world with galleries in Bangkok, Azerbaijan, New York’s Madison Avenue, and one in Kuwait to be launched soon. Opera Gallery Seoul launched in October 2007 in a joint venture between Korea’s Wearfun International and the Opera Gallery Group, some 20 years after Wearfun International chairman Kwon Gee-chan, an art aficionado, became acquainted with the Opera Gallery Paris.

The world of galleries, art collecting, art fairs and auctions is a glamorous one, shrouded in exclusivity and a certain aura of mystery. It is a world of trendsetting jetsetters, its players sipping Dom Perignon as they talk art and ink deals. Indeed, Dyan’s work involves extensive traveling around the globe. “I spend four months a year in Paris, where my family is. I spend two months in Monaco for the summer and I travel to the U.S., Middle East, Asia and then Europe,” said Dyan in soft, lilting Gallic accent. “I am too busy to really enjoy my collection,” he said with regret.

Dyan’s love of art began early. “My parents were teachers and my mother’s school was in Paris on a street with 25 galleries. Since (I was) very young, I looked at the (gallery) windows and I loved it but my parents did not want me to be an art dealer or artist,” Dyan said.

Steered away from art, Dyan studied medicine, switched to marketing and then finally returned to his early love, art. “I was asked to participate in an art fair in Singapore and I sold 40 paintings in four days. The economy was very, very bad in France at the time so I decided to open a gallery in Singapore. I opened Opera Gallery only a few months after the fair, in the beginning of 1994,” he said.

The Opera Gallery Group has adopted the unique concept of displaying contemporary artists from all over the world, emerging artists as well as important ones, mixed with masterpieces covering the whole of the 20th century, according to Dyan.
Wearfun International chairman Kwon Gee-chan (left) and Opera Gallery Group chairman Gilles Dyan pose next to a painting by Lisa Cabellut at Opera Gallery Seoul. (Meeya Kim/Opera Gallery Seoul)

Currently, the Opera Gallery Group has 50 artists under contract. “We buy the stock and control the production of the artist. For contemporary art, it is important to control the production,” Dyan said. “We buy and sell also in the secondary market, important paintings from artists who cover all the periods in the 20th century,” he said.

While there is no Korean artist under world contract, the group has represented some 10 Korean artists that it exhibited overseas. “They are received very well,” he observed. “The art scene in Korea is really good, very positive, a lot of creation,” he said.

However, the art market in Korea has yet to recover fully from the 2009 Wall Street collapse. While the global art market approached its pre-crisis high last year, recording some $66 million in sales, according to research and consulting firm Arts Economics, “the market is a bit slow in Korea compared to everywhere (else),” Dyan said.

Dyan, who bought his first piece of art at age 15, maintains that art collecting is not just for the very rich. “Some buy because they want to decorate, some buy because they like the artist, some want to come in just for investment purposes,” said Dyan.

“Art is still a good investment,” Dyan said. “Comparing returns to the stock market, gold, petrol, we are higher on the average,” he said. “The market in Europe is very big. China accounts for 33 percent, the U.S. 31 percent. The Middle East is very active as new museums on a big scale are planned. This also gives good energy to the market,” Dyan said.

“A good way to start a collection is to buy what you like. If you want to make an investment, buy an artist you know with an international representation. The important thing is to buy what you love,” Dyan advised, at the same time warning against paying “crazy prices” for contemporary artists. “People must take care of the prices they pay,” he said.

As a gallerist, Dylan interacts actively with the artists and buyers. “I love to speak with the artist. I love to try to explain what is inside, see their work. I love to speak with collectors, too. I love the artist myself,” Dylan said.

At the moment, Lita Cabellut, a Spanish artist of Romani origin who is now based in the Netherlands, is foremost on Dyan’s mind. “Cabellut, she is 52, I love very, very, very much. She was born in a brothel in Barcelona to a prostitute. She was on the street at 13. She started drawing on the street, painting on canvas for the first time at 21. Now she has four kids,” Dyan said. “She is a remarkable person.”

By Kim Hoo-ran, Senior writer