Opera Gallery Founder Gilles Dyan Still Adores the First Artwork He Ever Purchased and Believes Buying on a Whim Has Its Merits

We asked the global gallery entrepreneur about the things he values most—in art and in life.

Gilles Dyan. Courtesy of Opera Gallery.

So much of the art world orbits around questions of value, not only in terms of appraisals and price tags, but also: What is worthy of your time in These Times, as well as your energy, your attention, and yes, your hard-earned cash?

What is the math that you do to determine something’s meaning and worth? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we’re asking individuals from the art world and beyond about the valuations that they make at a personal level.

Gilles Dyan lives for the small stuff—a goodnight kiss from his grandkids or a simple meal shared with friends. For the French-born founder of Opera Gallery, joy exists in life’s contrasts. On one end, today, his gallery enterprise operates on a grand scale, with over a dozen locations around the world in cities from New York to Seoul.   

But his beginnings were modest. Dyan sold art prints door-to-door before founding his first gallery in Singapore in 1994. He found success in the gallery world presenting an array of works by Modern masters like Picasso and Chagall, along with contemporary artists such as David Kim Whittaker and Andy Denzler, both of whom recently had dedicated shows at gallery locations.  

Nowadays, when Dyan isn’t jet-setting around the world attending to his galleries, he’s at home finding delight in the first artwork he ever purchased—a work on paper by Jean Dubuffet. Recently we caught up with Dyan, who told us what he values in art and life—and why.

Manolo Valdés, Resin y Cristal (2023). Courtesy of Operag Gallery.

An artist worthy of increased attention? Dyan name-checks Spanish artist Manolo Valdés. Above is Valdés’ Resin y Cristal (2023). Courtesy of Opera Gallery.

What is the last thing that you splurged on?
A trendy piece of workout equipment that I know I will never use.

What is something that you’re saving up for?
I am an impulsive buyer! I tend to buy on a whim, often driven by emotions. 

What would you buy if you found $100?
A good meal with a loved one.

What makes you feel like a million bucks?
Being with my grandchildren.

What do you think is your greatest asset?
My family.

What do you most value in a work of art?
Definitely its emotional impact.

Andy Denzler, Distorted Land I (2021). Courtesy of Opera Gallery.

Dyan is supporting the work of Swiss emerging artist Andy Denzler. Pictured here is Adam Denzler’s Distorted Land I (2021). Courtesy of Opera Gallery.

Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention?
Two artists come to mind: Andy Denzler, a Swiss artist whose portraits have a cinematic quality that explores the power of ambiguity, and Adjei Tawiah, a painter from Ghana whose portraits explore the universal theme of grief and nostalgia. 

Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet gotten their due?
Manolo Valdés. He is a painter, sculptor, draughtsman, and visionary who was born in Valencia, Spain, and was a founding member of the Spanish art collective Equipo Crónica. He currently lives and works in New York City and makes beautifully rendered works that often reference the art historical canon through unexpected materials and motifs.  

Another Spanish artist that comes to mind on this topic is Juan Genovés. He passed away in May 2020, but he left behind an oeuvre of social realist works that continue to feel relevant today.

What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world?
Popularity. It is essential to recognize that art’s worth is subjective and multifaceted. While popularity may bring certain advantages, such as increased exposure or financial success, it should not be the sole measure of an artwork’s value or the primary focus of artistic evaluation.

What is your most treasured possession?
The very first original work of art I bought, which was a work on paper by Jean Dubuffet. It was in 1982. At the time I was a door-to-door salesman selling prints and original paintings by local artists. It makes me smile each time I look at it. Dubuffet was a wonderful artist, full of humor.

What’s been your best investment?
My team. Opera Gallery wouldn’t be what it is today without my team.

What is something small that means the world to you?
A goodnight kiss from my grandchildren.

What’s not worth the hype?
Overrated artists.

What do you believe is a worthy cause?
Bringing joy.

What do you aspire to?
To continue the Opera Gallery adventure for as long as possible.

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