20 years ago, Johann König opened his first exhibition of contemporary art in Berlin – at that time he was still at Rosa Luxemburg Platz in Mitte. The gallery owner is now exhibiting in the former St. Agnes Church on Alexandrine Street in Kreuzberg, where we also met him for a chat.
Mr. Koenig, how has your gallery survived the pandemic?
John King good. We have not received any funding. With our 65 employees, we haven’t done any business for a short time. But we are not a special case. During the pandemic, many galleries have focused on their core business in exhibitions. I think overall sales are down but profits are up. Inflation also contributes to the fact that many people want to buy more physical assets.
How did you use the time?
We have significantly expanded our activities in the digital field and therefore in online mediation. We have invested a lot there, as well as in our new site. It must make art tangible at a similar level of demand as an exhibition – and also serve as a transactional platform. This is relatively complicated because selling our artwork is different from a traditional e-commerce business.
What do you mean exactly?
It is about distinguishing between different collectors. We have some artwork that is in such high demand that we can’t sell it to the first person who comes across it. We have so few of them that we have to be careful about where we put them so that they make a lasting contribution to the artist’s career.
They actively influence who acquires works of art.
I agree. And of course this is very complicated once you want to photograph it digitally. If you want to buy something from Katharina Grosse, for example, it will start a process where we get to know you better as the buyer. We want to understand your motives. If we get the impression that you just want to buy the artwork in order to immediately resell it for a profit, we’d prefer not to sell it to you. Because we are tasked by artists to take care of their long-term career. It also means putting businesses into groups that bring added value and, within this context, honing public perception, for example.
She has also founded the misa.art platform. What exactly is this?
Misa.art is independent of König Galerie. It is an art market platform that allows artists and collectors to sell artwork. We believe this is the future of the art market. It’s a curated platform because we want to make sure that placements are relevant and that collectors can orient themselves. More than a few hundred artists are currently represented on misa.art.
What will you show at the weekend fair?
Very exciting: Zhanna Kadyrova, a Ukrainian sculptor whose exhibition we planned long before the start of the war, but now has adapted her concept to the current situation. In the upper part of the nave of Saint Agnes we highlight Xenia Hausner, a fine painter from Austria. And below the monastery, various individual stands of the exhibition will be shown – new works by almost all the artists represented.
The König Galerie represents about 40 artists. On what criteria are they selected?
It is important that individual positions are very strong, have a unique selling point, and contribute to what is already there.
Do beginners have a chance with you?
If you have an unusual situation, sure. We have also featured artists directly from the academy and included them in the programme. Helen Martin, for example, who later won the Turner Prize. Or Andrew Schmitten. This is not the question.
An important topic in the art market is NFTs, “non-fungible tokens,” which allow one-time digital trading. What meaning do they have for you?
This can be well explained using the work of Elijah Quad that we will be showing at Weekend Gallery. It is associated with an exhibition that many have seen at the Berlinische Galerie. Alicia Quad had her DNA read, printed and hung on the wall at the Berlinische Galerie, 259,025 A4 pages. The special thing about DNA is that it is unique, meaning that each of these pages is unique – but the differences are only a small percentage. These differences are highlighted in bold. These 259,025 pages are divided into groups of 25 pages each. Now when you buy NFT, you buy 25 pages. A link to the 25-page pdf file is attached to the NFT. If I resell the pdf, I will of course also resell the NFT. The NFT states that there are these
25 pages only once there.
So the artwork is unrelated to the physical significance of the pages I print on next.
You can print them and throw them away without damaging the artwork. This example illustrates well the possibilities inherent in NFTs: to preserve digital content, but also to transmit it. Before we sell these 25 pages. Then you have to pay attention to light protection and you can’t hang it in the sun. In addition, you have to make sure to keep the certificate separately, and if one page is lost, the whole work gets corrupted. All of these problems no longer exist with NFTs.
I recently made amazing digital art of Refik Anadol, vivid paintings, so to speak.
Digital art, like any other form of art, must have meaning above all else. Refik Anadol takes millions of images from the internet and processes these data points into this form of digital drawing. This is something that makes a real contribution to the existing aesthetic and the discussion around portraits and painting. This makes it fun for us.
Space requirements are the most difficult problem for many showrooms. for you too?
We were fortunate to have the church work done in a timely manner. We are currently looking for more rooms. As is known, we are working on the mouse lair and want to set up studios and art production facilities there. We’re still trying to convince the Senate. We’ve come a long way with Michael Mueller, and now we’ve called Mrs. Jeffy and are waiting.
I have been in Berlin for 20 years. How did the art market develop during this time?
The situation is much more diverse than is often seen. Fraud and maximum prices are openly discussed, but the art world covers a huge scope. Berlin has changed for the better in some areas and for the worse in others. All in all, this balances it out. Of course this is an issue with space requirements, but there is simply more money in the city and people are buying artwork. What leads to a disadvantage on the one hand is an advantage on the other. And if you compare that to another capital like London, Berlin does relatively well.