Johann König Thinks You’re Selling Art Online All Wrong. That’s Why His Platform Prices Works Using an Algorithm

With more or less success over the past year and a half, art dealers have been trying to learn a new game. Some have opened pop-ups in holiday towns. Others sent surrogates or holograms to fairs abroad. Others still are trying ticketed art experiences. Johann König, meanwhile, is doing a little bit of everything.

His most recent project, MISA, an online sales platform that debuted last week, might float—or even soar. The Berlin-based dealer, who has outposts in Seoul and London (and online in “Decentraland“), now has plans for an online viewing room, NFT auctions, and opportunities for collectors looking to invest in fractional ownership schemes. Another new idea? A.I.-powered pricing.

That may have left you gasping for air—it’s certainly how I felt when trying to make sense of everything the ambitious dealer told me as he taxied across Berlin between meetings.  

Galerie König at St. Agnes in Berlin. Photo Roman Marz.

Galerie König at St. Agnes in Berlin. Photo Roman Marz.

“We are providing a new entry point into the market,” König told me. “We are giving price information to anyone—we do not mind who. I find art fairs are increasingly inefficient, especially when you factor in the shipping costs, the expenses for staff, and the ecological footprint.”

He’s still attending many, of course. König is a regular at Art Basel, Art Cologne, and Frieze. But now, he said, he has the infrastructure to run some version of such events himself, albeit at a different scale and with a different bent. 

Last year, he tapped Lena Winter from the Ketterer Kunst auction house to help create MISA, which acts as a primary and secondary market platform. And it seems neither of them will let this crisis we’re living through go to waste. “It was an idea formed by these pandemic times,” Winter said.

König initially hired Winter to run MISA as a fair. But under her watch, it has graduated into a multi-stranded sales platform that caters to anyone with a credit card. (König learned from a recent attempt to sell NFTs that some of his non-tech-oriented buyers had no idea how to pay with cryptocurrency.) And as far as the fractional ownership plans go, they’re currently being sorted out by lawyers and representatives from the Frankfurt stock exchange because, technically speaking, they will be financial assets.

MISA 3 view of the NFT sale “booth.” Photo Roman Marz.

Asked what similar platforms already existed, König mentioned Singulart and Saatchi, though he was quick to add that neither had the “quality, institutionally approved art that we do.” He also gave a nod to Pace, which is developing its own NFT platform, and of course there’s David Zwirner’s plainly titled Platform online viewing room, which isn’t yet grappling with NFTs. (MISA’s NFT market is scheduled to open on August 22.)

MISA’s web presence is not only super sleek. It also has a corresponding salesroom in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin, where viewers can see previews of works to be sold. The gallery is presenting “booths” organized by theme, such as the art-historical Junge Wilde and a grouping of artworks depicting nudes.

For collectors who find even that too refined, there are simpler categories. “Even for a very cultivated buyer, sometimes color is what makes a decision,” Winter said. Accordingly, some artworks are arranged together according to color. Online, Danish artists such as Elmgreen & Dragset, Jeppe Hein, and Per Kirkeby have their own virtual booth. And though many of the artists whose works are for sale are represented by König, there are also unrepresented artists working with the gallery for the first time.

Price transparency is an essential aspect of MISA, and so is A.I.-powered pricing. König and Winter are using Limna, a self-styled digital art advisor that can designate prices for artworks based on data taken from exhibition histories, fair inclusions, press mentions, and auction records. “We want the client to have information from many sources, so they can build up their opinion,” Winter said.

MISA 3 view of the photography “booths” and “works on paper.” Photo Roman Marz.

The technology has its limits. In some cases, Limna has priced works lower than the gallery prefers. An Otto Piene from 1967 with gouache and traces of fire and soot is listed by the gallery at €216,000. Limna’s price, which the gallery shows alongside its final price, was €140,000. “Sometimes, the price makes no sense in our opinion,” Winter said, adding that Limna is still quite new. “But it is learning.”

For the moment, what matters to the gallery are other numbers: it said that while only 3,000 people visited the in-person MISA viewing room, 29,500 went to its website.

MISA 3 view of the East German art “booth.” Photo Roman Marz.

König is also pleased with sales. A 2021 cubic sculpture by Chiharu Shiota has sold for €42,000. An acrylic painting by Katharina Grosse went for €170,000. Among secondary-market works, a 1969 painting by German Pop artist Fritz Köthe sold for €27,000. And a still-unrepresented young artist from Munich, Ludwig Stalla, sold a moody cloud painting for €1,400.

Some in the art trade might snub it all of, but König said his methods are working for now, introducing new artists to new audiences, and new audiences to the market. The rollout continues for its fractional ownership and NTF platforms in the coming weeks, and there are plans to stage several selling solo shows around Cologne next spring. What stays and goes remains to be seen. The best measure for the platform will be the test of time. And nowadays, time moves fast.

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Pace Gallery Jumps Headfirst Into the Crypto-Art Market With a Dedicated NFT Platform

Marc Glimcher, president and CEO of Pace Gallery, and among the most vocal proponents of the crypto-art market—at least among the mega-dealer set—has announced the gallery’s first dedicated platform for selling artists’ NFTs.

Due to open in September, the as-yet-unnamed platform will debut with a series of new NFTs by Lucas Samaras based on his archive of digital prints, making them the 84-year-old artist’s first foray into the medium.

The goal is not to compete with established crypto-art marketplaces such as Nifty Gateway or Rarible, Glimcher told Midnight Publishing Group News, and collaborations will be considered “on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Instead, the platform, which will live on the gallery’s website and be overseen by Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle, Pace’s online sales director, is intended as an outlet for Pace artists to produce and sell digital artworks while the gallery controls the price point. 

“By offering artists’ work on our own platform, we can better support them in setting appropriate prices and by managing the sales process more seamlessly than through third parties,” Glimcher said.

The impetus, he said, came in part from the gallery’s artists.

“We work with a number of artists who want to make NFTs, so building a dedicated platform where they can show their work is an obvious solution,” he said.

In April, Pace partnered with Urs Fischer on the sale of his first NFT through the auction app Fair Warning, which reportedly caused a rift between the artist and his longtime dealer, Gagosian. The artwork, a digital animation of a lighter merging with an egg, sold for $97,700.

Pace will join forces with Fischer again this month when it hosts an online exhibition of the artist’s NFTs. The show is set to go on view July 21. Later this summer, Pace will showcase an NFT project from one of its newest roster artists, Glenn Kaino.

Pace is also now accepting cryptocurrency as a form of payment for all artworks, physical or digital.

“I’m a crypto person,” Glimcher told Bloomberg, which first reported the news of the NFT platform. “It’s really painless to accept crypto. It’s just: Why would you not?”

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