Dakis Joannou

"I wouldn't have succeeded if I hadn't been free"

The entrepreneur and top art collector talks about the milestones of his life, his relationship with art, the artworks that changed his perspective towards the world and his need to focus on the intersection points between contemporary culture and art. He explains how he managed to create a unique collection and how important its role can be for the promotion of dialogue in art, in connection with humanity.

Dakis Joannou

Free spirit in life and art

By Christina Katsantoni
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos


Dakis Joannou says he has been captivated by his curiosity; a curiosity that has influenced him since his childhood. And exactly that captivation sets him a free spirit.


He was born and grew up in Nicosia. His first memories from his family and school are defined by the desire of everyone to achieve the union with Greece.

Art was somehow always present in his life. And when all teenagers of his age had posters of James Dean above their bed, he had the “Girl Before a Mirror” by Pablo Picasso.

When he met pop art

He graduated from Athens College in 1958 and later he studied civil engineering in Cornell University followed by his Master’s in Columbia University and his doctoral studies in architecture in the University of Rome. During his stay in New York he had the chance to experience firsthand the pop art revolution. He visited many galleries, met several artists, tasted every incredibly new the era had to offer and realised better the connection between art and life.

When studying in the University of Rome he delved into buildings, experienced fascinating art forms and asked his parents to get him a work of Del Pezzo that combined Pop Art with Italian Pittura Metafisica, as a graduation gift. 

The business growth

In Cyprus later on, he actively participated in the construction company of his father, Stelios Joannou, with the aim to develop it further. At the same time he married the woman of his life, Lietta Stavraki, and they started their own family that has counted four children. 

After the Turkish invasion of 1974, his family moved to London for a new start and for one decade, the life of Dakis Joannou revolved around working. With London being his base, he travelled a lot - so much that, at times, he didn’t even know in which country he woke up to – in order to contribute to further development of the company concerning great constructions worldwide.  

He was absorbed by his work these years. But love for art was always there and accompanied him to the whole of his business activity. When his family moved in Athens in 1980, he started to assert more from his life. 

His curiosity always remained strong as well as his desire to intensify his engagement to contemporary art. And as such, the Foundation with the smart abbreviation DESTE (International Greek Contemporary Art) was born.

A Dialogue for art and life

DESTE launched its actions in 1983 as a new-ideas platform; a concept that covered the need to shed light on the intersection points between contemporary art and culture, which actively participated in the dialogue.

Back then, Dakis Joannou didn’t appreciate the importance of a collection, considering that for some people, it would be an opportunity to add more “awards” to their shelves. He radically changed his mind when, in 1985, he saw “One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank” of the then unknown Jeff Koons in a New York gallery. And that moment was, as he says, like if Pandora’s Box had been opened and a completely new world had appeared in front of him. 

He started buying artworks without even noticing that he had started a collection which today gives him the title of one of the top collectors of artwork in the world. The making of this collection wasn’t based on the intention to keep the works for him but on the need to share them by placing them in a framework that promotes art conversation.  

The collection of artwork

Dakis Joannou’s collection includes works of art that reflect a wide range of contemporary art and have now been an integral part of him. It’s a collection adaptable to the current times and continues to evolve. 

Usually he takes works of artists that he knows or gets to know. It’s not a peculiarity but it’s the same curiosity to know what kind of story is hidden behind every picture that touches his eyes, his mind and his heart. 

Maybe for some people, art is luxury. But for Dakis Joannou it is life. It has to do with the soul and the belief that man doesn’t need art to survive but to stay human.