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Between art & commerce

Damien Simonelli with a Botero piece. Visitors are always assured of a warm and friendly welcome from gallery director Damien Simonelli, who has worked at Opera Gallery for many years. Simonelli talks to Riviera Insider aboute the Opera Galley’s history and business model.

Why is it called Opera Gallery?

Gilles Dyan, who is still president of the group, founded the first gallery in Singapore. The second gallery was then established in the Opera district of Paris. There could also be some association with the Italian word ‘opera’, which can be translated as ‘work of art’.

What is the business model of the gallery?

A key strategy is to open galleries where the collectors are, such as in important financial centres of the world. Paris, London, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong are all centres of high finance as well as art. In addition, we seek locations close to upmarket centres such as Monaco, and choose districts with established well-known brands such as the Carré d’Or.

Are art collectors mostly private individuals or do they also include companies?

The majority are private collectors. Companies tend to be those that work in the area of interior design – in private residences, restaurants and offices.

How is your artist portfolio put together? Is there a preference for young, emerging artists or artists who are well-established and have considerable market value?

Our artists are divided into two segments. One includes the major recognised masters of the late 19th and 20th centuries such as Renoir, Chagall and Picasso, as well as other wellknown and important artists including Soulages, Dubuffet, Calder, Kusama, Fontana, Georg Baselitz and Manolo Valdés. The other segment covers young artists who are bringing new approaches to the market, and who we believe in and want to support.

How do you establish contact with as yet unknown artists?

Our employees follow the art scene and devote their time to discovering new talent. At the same time, young artists themselves also make contact with us in order to present their work personally.

Who decides if an artist should be included in the gallery programme?

At the beginning of the year, a committee of directors makes a selection from a list of artists who have applied to one of the group’s galleries around the world. This is a hugely difficult task as it requires an assessment of the artistic and market potential of each artist. The committee can, of course, rely on the impressions gained by the gallery that proposed a particular artist. Group director Gilles Dyan has the final say.

Between each committee decision, what do you do in the meantime if you are very interested in a particular artist?

We can gain a first-hand impression of the artist by getting to know their work and atelier through direct viewings. In addition, we can bring a selection of work into the depot and seek initial feedback from art collectors.

Do you take work on commission or do you buy paintings?

We sign a contract with the artist that provides for a sale.

Are your shows organised as touring exhibitions that make the rounds of the group’s galleries across the world?

That is often the case. For example, Andy Denzler is exhibiting in Monaco this summer, but his first exhibition took place in Geneva in 2015, followed by New York at the beginning of 2016.

Does the response to individual artists vary in different parts of the world?

Collectors have very different reactions to artwork. Before organising a solo exhibition, we test an artist by presenting them in strategic locations such as the Black Room or in the display windows.

Who determines the market value of an artist?

The market value of the recognised masters is determined in auctions at major auction houses such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s. For emerging artists, it depends on the quality of the artistic research, the distinctive character of their artistic style, the reputation they have already built up and the number and significance of exhibitions.

How important is it to have mutual trust between gallery and art collector?

We attach great importance to supporting the collector over the long-term and building up a relationship of trust, regardless of whether they themselves are experts or not. This is the primary task of our gallery.

How risky is an investment in art?

Art collectors with large budgets are able to invest in the major, recognised masters whose value is guaranteed. The risk is greater with emerging artists, although prices are much lower. The gallery is of course unable to provide any guarantee of value retention, but its international reputation helps the young artist to reach a larger audience and acquire a good position on the art market. Art collectors include people who are passionate about art, as well as those who are more interested in art as an investment. Those with an interest in the investment side can satisfy their desire to speculate by setting aside a smaller part of their budget to buy work by young, aspiring artists.


Alfred Thum