artnet Asks: Jordan Lahmi on Dealing and Buying Art with Love

For dealers, parting with the art they love is bittersweet.

Jordan Lahmi. Courtesy of Opera Gallery.

Jordan Lahmi. Courtesy of Opera Gallery.

Founded in Paris in 1994 by Gilles Dyan, today Opera Gallery is located in 11 cities across the globe: Geneva, Monaco, London, New York, Miami, Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Seoul, in addition to Paris. Jordan Lahmi is the director of its Geneva operation, which opened in 2009. Here he discusses his latest exhibition, Alexander Calder and Jean Dubuffet: Between Sky and Earthand which of his gallery’s art he finds most difficult to part with—which, naturally, is all of it.

Tell us about your background in art and what led you here.
I grew up in Montmartre, in Paris, in a family of art dealers and was surrounded by beautiful art pieces from an early age. Gilles Dyan, who founded Opera Gallery in 1994, is my uncle. He has been in the art business his whole life. My family entertained a lot of artists, and I met some that were or became quite famous. Working in art seemed like a foregone conclusion to me.

What is the first artwork that captured your attention?
My family home was across the street from Bernard Buffet’s studio. I remember visiting his studio as a little boy and his work, so powerful and dark, fascinated me. One day, I went as he was working on an exhibition with views from New York and was captivated by a particular painting called Church Street. Many years later, I came upon this particular piece, and I actually bought it for myself.

What type of art does your gallery focus on?
We show modern and contemporary art by artists from all over the world. We actually have 11, and soon 12, galleries in Europe, Asia, and America. I believe that our international exposure is one of our main strengths. Even if each gallery is independent and adapted to the taste of its local collectors, we share our art pieces between galleries. For example, I am the director of our Geneva gallery, and I have discovered some very talented young Swiss artists that are now exhibited in our Asian and American galleries.

What was the most difficult artwork to part with? Why?
All of them!  All the artworks I choose for my gallery have a story, so I am attached to all of them. Sometimes it is because I know the artist, sometimes it is the way I discovered the piece, sometimes it is because I discover that there is a particular meaning behind it that touches me. I don’t pretend to have the same taste as all my collectors, but I always find it easier to sell something that I appreciate, even if it makes it harder for me to part with.

Good shot by Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder, Good shot (1974). Courtesy of Opera Gallery.

What is your next important show? Tell us why we should come.
Actually, we just started a new show called “Calder – Dubuffet Entre Ciel et Terre” (“Between Sky and Earth”). We will keep the exhibition up until October 15.

We thought it was interesting to show the works of these two giants of the 20th century side by side. To my knowledge, this has never been done before. Their works are visually very different, but they go very well together. They both have revolutionized conventional art by audacious use of informal techniques and materials, each in their own way. I am very proud of this show; we really selected exceptional pieces by both artists. It will be hard for me to part with them…

What has been your most memorable experience in the art world?
This might not be my most memorable experience in the art world, but it is the one that comes to my mind because it happened not long ago. We participate in several art fairs, such as BRAFA or ZONA MACO, for example. More recently we participated in Spring Masters in New York. Rudolf Stingel came to my booth and we talked for quite awhile. I’ve always admired his work and I believe his success is well deserved. I was surprised at how easygoing and humble he was. I was really proud that he enjoyed the artworks that I selected for this show. He actually wanted to buy one of the pieces but it was already sold.

What advice can you give to a first-time collector?
To buy with his heart, definitely! Art is something that you should feel. I’ve often sold art pieces to first-time collectors, and they always came back for more! I always tell them that they are the ones who will live with the piece. Often, I offer them to try the artwork in their home. It reassures them, even if I strongly believe myself that if you like an art piece, it will always find its place in your home naturally. Of course, sometimes there is a price factor, but we sell some good original pieces by talented contemporary artists that are not too pricey yet. The young artists we represent, we believe in and we are confident in their future.

What is the best show you’ve seen recently?
It definitely is the permanent collection at the Museum Soulages in Rodez, France. I am a big fan of his work and all the pieces are striking. The building itself is beautiful—it would actually make a nice gallery.

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