Johann König - entrepreneur, art mediator, author, podcaster, world-renowned gallery owner. Born in Cologne, Germany, he runs 2021 galleries in Berlin, Monaco, London, Vienna and Seoul. In our podcast "Normal Gets You Nowhere" Johann talks about his work as a gallerist, his beginnings, the current state of his galleries, his newly launched project "MISA" and also about the future of art, among other things.
"My goal is to make the art world and the art market accessible to a larger and broader public".
This sentence falls at the beginning of our conversation with Johann König and which can definitely be seen as a mission from him. Johann, born in Cologne in 1981, came into contact with the art world at an early age. "I grew up surrounded by works of art, artists came in and out of our house," says the now 40-year-old about his first points of contact with the subject, which for many is far away. If you look at Johann's family, you quickly realize where this comes from. His father Kasper was a well-known art professor, curator and museum director, including of the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, his uncle Walther was an art book publisher and his brother Leo runs an art business in New York.
"Of course, everyone said I wasn't qualified".
For Johann, who now has more than 60 employees and his headquarters in the former St. Agnes Church, a brutalite 1960s structure in Berlin's Kreuzberg district, the path seems prescribed. But an accident at the age of 11 turns Johann's life upside down. While experimenting with black powder pellets, an explosion occurs, causing injuries to Johann's hands, face and eyes. The injuries to his eyes are so bad that Johann spends a year in the hospital, undergoes numerous surgeries and loses most of his vision. After his regeneration, he attends the Institute for the Study of the Blind in Marburg and from then on goes to a boarding school for visually impaired children, where he graduates from high school at the end of his schooling.
After or already during his school years, Johann makes the decision to want to work in the art world despite his handicap. "Even though I could see so badly, I realized that I wanted to work with artists and also considered making art myself," Johann says. Johann sees the idea of a gallery as the only option, and so he founds it at just 20 years old. "Looking back, I went in there insanely naive and naïve, and through a lot of trial and error, however, I found the way that fit," says Johann, who also describes the early days of financing. "I tried to get a startup loan, but of course everyone said I wasn't qualified," says Johann, who can take those rejections with a smile 20 years later.
"I got there mostly because of the artists."
Part of the success, of course, is the artists, whom Johann singles out in our conversation. Their patience in paying out after a work of art has been sold - Johann himself refers to these cases as "cash flow delay" - enable Johann to finance other things. In doing so, he also follows a path in the early days that others advised him against. "In the beginning, there was advice not to take too high risks. But I realized that it's important to me to do things that excite me, and I realized through experience that if you're on fire for it yourself, the likelihood is higher that others will follow," Johann tells us of his formula for success.
Back then, Johann benefited primarily from the artists, but today it's partly the other way around. "Sometimes it's the case that you have to invest in an artistic position at the beginning. But sometimes it's also the case that a run develops like this with the artists and we continue to be supported by them. It's like an interplay and then also a trusting and long-term collaboration."
"We use all possible ways to communicate the content of our artists and performers"
The collaboration takes place in many ways. There is the own podcast "Was mit Kunst" as well as the "König" magazine, in which the works of the artists are shown. If you take a look at the Instagram account of König Galerie and Johann himself, you also become aware there of the influence social media has in his work.
When asked about the future, you can tell Johann is looking forward to the years ahead. "The great thing is, it's such a wide field where you can try out and develop so much and the market is still so closed. There are still an insane amount of possibilities," says Johann, who is also positive about the development of NFTs and digital art in general. "I believe that digital art is simply becoming more and more important and that the younger generation is simply dealing with it much more naturally," says Johann, who also sees the fractionalization of artworks as a model for the future. It's this approach, which allows even the average person to purchase art, that Johann likes. "What could be more identity-forming than being invested in the things that inspire you?" says Johann at the end of our conversation.
Johann König is on a mission to bring what has been a rather exclusive art world to a much wider audience. His pioneering work and innovative ideas make him one of the most interesting gallerists in the world.
You can hear the complete conversation in our podcast "Normal Gets You Nowhere" episode #002.