Banking on Art

Opera Gallery’s one-size-fits-all model, selling everything from Renoir to regional artists, has made the brand an international success

Gilles Dyan has come a long way since opening his first art gallery in Singapore two decades ago. Sales were slow in Europe at the time, in contrast to the growing interest in buying art in the southeast Asian island. For the 20 years that followed, Dyan not only established a popular brand but also created the first network of international galleries under the Opera group, which now includes 11 galleries in major cities across North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The key to its success? Its everything-under-one-roof model.


“The concept we have, which is a little bit different from classical galleries, is that we propose to collectors a mix of contemporary artists from all over the world. We can propose some upcoming artists and this is mixed with masterpieces which cover the 20th century movement, from Renoir and Monet to American pop art,” says Dyan from his home in Paris.

Just as the Opera Gallery’s collection of art is wide-ranging, so is its clientele. A collector can find painting, sculpture and photographic masterpieces as well as works by young and emerging artists, priced between $7,000 and $9 million. Dyan says the gallery wants to “attract rich people”, explaining its prime locations surrounded by luxury brands wherever it operates. In Paris, an Opera Gallery is nestled among designer brands and five-star hotels in the Place Vendome.

“With this kind of location, we can contact regular collectors because they are also working in the high-end district,” he says.

The company made its foray into the Middle East market in 2008 with the opening of its first gallery in Dubai. This was key to serving its growing customer base in the GCC countries.

“This is a very important market. We already had relationships with a few collectors based in Dubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Oman and for us it was very important to be able to establish a space in this region. Dubai is very international and I think it is the centre of the emirates and all the public events in the region. People go there to relax over the weekend and it attracts many tourists so it was the place to be for us,” says Dyan.

Opera’s Dubai gallery is situated in the heart of Dubai’s financial district DIFC, home to the regional offices of top global banks, financial institutions, high-end retail outlets and fine dining destinations. About half its customers are Emiratis and other Gulf nationals while the other half are expatriates living in or visiting Dubai.

“I think we have two types of clientele in Dubai. Some want to make a good investment in masterpieces and have part of their assets in art so they try to buy important names among contemporary artists and we have collectors who buy because they like the art and want to decorate their home,” he says.

Collectors can find works by renowned artists such as Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and Sam Francis in the DIFC outlet as well as paintings from Emirati, Syrian, Iranian and Lebanese artists. Last year sales at the Dubai gallery grew by 10 per cent compared to the previous year and represented 6.5 per cent of the group’s global turnover, says Dyan. While sales are accelerating, Dubai still lags behind the gallery’s fastest-growing markets – New York, London, Hong Kong and Paris. That could change once the UAE’s art scene expands and matures, says Dyan.

“It takes time to educate people to buy important works. I think the market will be more important when all the big museums open in Abu Dhabi like the Louvre and the Guggenheim.

“The market is good but it could be much better in the future because more and more people will visit. [The market] will expose the public to art, educate them and will give people who wish to own paintings or to decorate their home more options. The more people there are in the art business, the more museums, the better it is for everyone and for our business as an art gallery.”

Increasingly, high net worth individuals are betting on art as a long-term investment, with the perception that works by the world’s best artists will retain their value even during times of crisis. In February, a Paul Gauguin painting depicting two Tahitian women was sold for a record $300 million, reportedly to the Qatar Museums Authority and exceeding any amount paid for a single art piece.

“Confidence is very high and if you look at all the studies being done about art compared to the stock market or gold, in the long term art is the better investment. The only thing you need to show is the right artists at the right price,” says Dyan.

With this in mind, Dyan has a lot of planning to do, as he prepares to add a number of new galleries this year to Opera’s portfolio. Among the locations slated for new openings are Beirut, Baku, New York and Colorado.