Jean-David Malat is the man to know in the arts world right now. Not only does he have a knack for turning unknown artists into international sensations, he is also striving to introduce new potential buyers into the art world to set the scene for the next generation. Here, Malat give The Resident some tips on buying art
Words: Emily Manson
Death and taxes may be the only certainties in life, but Jean-David Malat would like to add one more: art. And as director of the London branch of the international Opera Gallery on New Bond Street, he should know.
He’s convinced it’s the best investment anyone can make right now. ‘Art is a very safe investment because there are more and more collectors around the world, and less and less pieces – especially masterpieces. We saw that at the auctions as soon as Brexit happened – Christie’s sold a Buffet for over £1m for the first time.’
Malat reels off investable artists such as Lita Cabellut, Andy Denzler, Ran Hwang, Joe Black and Mike Dargas
He reels off investable artists such as Lita Cabellut, Andy Denzler, Ran Hwang and Joe Black as well as Mike Dargas, the last of which he confidently expects to double in value in a few years from Euros 20-40,000 to around Euros 80-120,000. And, despite my unfortunate lack of a spare £40K, I can’t help listening, because the debonair Frenchman is one of the most influential people in the UK art market right now.
A self-styled kingmaker with a seemingly Midas touch, his background in retail (he began selling World Cup souvenirs in a Parisian shop before coming to London to work in fashion), has helped him take the sleepy art world by storm over the last decade. His skill is not only in the positioning of pieces within his gallery mixing masterpieces with new works – thereby exposing unknowns to collectors and his A-list celebrity buyers – but also in being able to ‘discover’ these new artists.
Much is made of him finding Oli G Johannsson, the Icelandic fisherman, and he admits his proudest moment was signing him on a wooing trip to Iceland. More recently, he discovered Dargas on Instagram and the collection earlier this year sold out before it even opened at the gallery. He’s pragmatic about this.
Malat discovered Mike Dargas on Instagram and the collection earlier this year sold out before it even opened at the gallery
‘It’s important for an artist to have powerful patrons especially with social networks – an Instagram picture of a celebrity in the gallery with someone’s work will go straight to thousands of their fans. It’s important to play with that today.’
And his celebrity buyers are certainly very powerful – they include Lily Allen, Madonna, Gordon Ramsay and Arnold Schwarzenegger. To date, he’s ‘discovered’ around 12 artists including Joe Black, Nick Gentry and some street artists in addition to Johannsson and Dargas. ‘Not all make it,’ he insists, ‘but to have two or three of them doing well internationally is great.’
Of course this could be a purely mercenary business-tactic – you need a pipeline of living artists to keep contemporary art alive, but you get the feeling that aside from the sales, this is actually Malat’s genuine passion: finding little known artists and promoting them from obscurity to international acclaim.
‘To discover an artist and make them international is not just about money,’ he says. ‘I need to have a good connection with the artist personally and with their work. Then I do everything I can to make them well known – advise celebrities, museums and collectors to buy the works.’
So what does he look for? ‘Something that makes you stop and look. I need to love the art, the person and connect with their story. There are a million artists in the world and we see the same all the time. It’s so nice to see something different or unique. I think people want to move away from abstract and go back to real crafted art.’
There are a million artists in the world and we see the same all the time. It’s so nice to see something different or unique. I think people want to move away from abstract and go back to real crafted art
His other aim is introducing new potential buyers to the world of art – something he’s equally passionate about. With a top location on Bond Street and an eclectic mix of contemporary and modern work (he doesn’t do old masterpieces or conceptual art), he says: ‘We have a lot of different styles and are welcoming to everyone. We often have students sitting on the floor drawing pieces. I believe we have to be open and talk to everyone, because they will then talk to someone else. It’s about getting new collectors into the art world.’
Indeed, his most prolific collector to date stumbled across the gallery while looking for shoes on Bond Street and began his collection with a single £10,000 piece. ‘Now he has hundreds,’ smiles Malat. And as I walk out the door past a giant gorilla made of coat-hangers, I can’t help wondering who will be in the market for that today.
134 New Bond Street W1S 2TF; 020 7491 2999; operagallery.com
- Figurative works are coming back into fashion; abstracts are moving out
- If it’s for your home buy something you really like and what you feel is right – it’s important to go with your own feelings
- Buy from a reputable dealer or gallery
- Go into a few different galleries to find out what you really like
- Look at auctions so you know you are paying the right price