Selling

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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Disgraced Former Art Dealer Angela Gulbenkian Has Been Sentenced to Three Years in Prison for Fraudulently Selling a Kusama


Angela Gulbenkian, the 39-year-old German socialite who orchestrated fraudulent art deals to fund a lavish lifestyle, has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison. 

The sentence came today in London’s Southwark Crown Court, where, earlier this month,  Gulbenkian pled guilty to two counts of theft: one over the faulty sale of a £1.1 million ($1.4 million) Yayoi Kusama sculpture to Hong Kong company Art Incorporated Limited (AIL); and the other regarding £50,000 ($65,000) from her masseuse, Jacqui Ball.

Courtroom evidence showed that Gulbenkian, who married into one of Europe’s wealthiest art-collecting families, put much of that money toward extravagant purchases, including a £25,000 Rolex watch, two art pieces worth a combined £56,000, and a private charter jet.

“Both counts on the indictment involve, in comparative terms, thefts of very large sums of money,” Judge David Tomlinson told the court upon issuing the ruling, according to the BBC.

“Running through all of this criminality was a sustained obfuscation on your part,” he added, addressing Gulbenkian. “When AIL and Ms. Ball separately tried to get you to deliver on your promise, your treatment of them prolonged the distress.”

Gulbenkian’s three-year, six-month sentence comes on top of the two years she is already credited with serving after being arrested in Lisbon in June of last year under a European arrest warrant.

Meanwhile, a third lawsuit, in which Gulbenkian is accused of selling a £115,000 ($151,000) Andy Warhol print on behalf of a London-based dealer and pocketing the money, is still pending.

Art Recovery International’s Christopher Marinello, the lawyer representing AIL in the case against Gulbenkian, said he thought the sentence could have been heavier. 

“In my view, this sends the wrong message to the post-Brexit London art market,” Marinello told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email. “It says to me that fraudsters are welcome in London to ply their trade, to spend and hide their ill-gotten gains on property and luxury goods, as long as the [Revenue and Customs department] gets their share.”  

Marinello filed criminal charges against Gulbenkian in early 2018, roughly a year after she failed to deliver a 179-pound Kusama pumpkin sculpture to Mathieu Ticolat, the founder of AIL. 

Soon after, others came forward alleging that they, too, had been defrauded by the art dealer. ArtCube, an online platform that connects art buyers and sellers, claimed Gulbenkian owed them $15,000, while an interior design firm in London said she never paid for the company to deck out her bedroom in Kusama’s signature polka-dot motif.

In January 2020, an anonymous London art dealer, later revealed to be James Ashcroft, filed a lawsuit claiming that Gulbenkian sold him an Andy Warhol print of Queen Elizabeth II and pocketed the money rather than giving it to the owner of the piece. 

“Angela Gulbenkian has been taken off the market as a serial art-world fraudster,” Marinello said after the sentencing. “I only wish that law enforcement and the justice system in the U.K. would move quicker to enable victims to recoup their funds in the early stages of these criminal cases. By the time we followed procedure, the stolen funds were long gone.” 

“This needs to be addressed if London hopes to remain an art-world leader,” he concluded.

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See Works by Ai Weiwei, Rachel Whiteread, and Others at England’s New Blue-Chip Selling Sculpture Park Albion Fields


Londoners seeking an outdoor art escape this summer will have an exciting new destination to add to the map. Albion Fields, a sprawling new 50-acre sculpture garden, opened in Oxfordshire this week. 

The sculpture park is the creation of art dealer Michael Hue-Williams, who owns the property on which he also runs its art space, Albion Barn.

The dealer came up with the idea for the park during the nationwide lockdown. “Walking through these beautiful grounds during lockdown, I realized I have a unique opportunity to share the experience,” he said. “Having access to this land, combined with my numerous years of experience working with contemporary sculpture, made the decision to open an outdoor sculpture park really compelling.”

In the months since, Hue-Williams has gone full tilt to bring the dream to fruition, partnering with four galleries—Marian Goodman, König Galerie, Lisson Gallery, and Goodman Gallery—to realize the installation. Backers of the garden include Nicholas Serota, Jacob Rothschild, Ed Vaizey, Richard Long, and Anish Kapoor. 

James Capper, Treadpad B–Pair 2, Walking Ship 40 Ton Standard displacement 4 Leg. Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Albion Fields.

James Capper, Treadpad B–Pair 2, Walking Ship 40 Ton Standard displacement 4 Leg. Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Albion Fields.

This summer, visitors can see 26 works by artists including Alicja Kwade, Ai Weiwei, Rachel Whiteread, Erwin Wurm, and David Adjaye. 

Unlike other sculpture parks of this scale, all the works are available for sale through their respective galleries. Installations will change on a roughly six-month rotation (the first installation is on view through September 25, 2021). Entrance to the garden as well as Albion Barn is free of charge, but requires advance registration. 

The grounds to Albion Fields, which were long used for agriculture, have also been rewilded. Visitors can walk about pathways through a landscape that shifts from a natural lake, a lush meadow, and wooded areas filled with deer, badgers, woodpeckers, hare, owls, and other indigenous creatures.

See more images of Albion Fields below.

Bernar Venet, Indeterminate Line (2016–2020). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Bernar Vernet Studio.

Bernar Venet, Indeterminate Line (2016–2020). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Bernar Vernet Studio.

David Adjaye, Horizon Pavilion (2017). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Albion Fields.

David Adjaye, Horizon Pavilion (2017). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Albion Fields.

Ai Wei Wei, Sofa in Black (2011). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.

Ai Wei Wei, Sofa in Black (2011). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.

Richard Long, Ivory Granite Line (2016). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.

Richard Long, Ivory Granite Line (2016). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.

Jeppe Hein, Twisted Geometric Mirror. Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist and Konig Galerie.jpg

Jeppe Hein, Twisted Geometric Mirror. Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist, and Konig Galerie.jpg

Ryan Gander, More really shiny things that don’t mean anything (2012). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, Lisson Gallery, and Albion Fields.

Ryan Gander, More really shiny things that don’t mean anything (2012). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, Lisson Gallery, and Albion Fields.

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From Sotheby’s Selling the World Wide Web to a Court Fight Over Invisible Art: The Best and Worst of the Art World This Week


Sotheby’s Sells the Web – Information may want to be free, but an NFT associated with the source code for the World Wide Web just sold for $5.4 million.

Thomas Houseago Opens Up – The artist spoke to Midnight Publishing Group News’s Kate Brown about how mental illness, recovery, and trauma are helping to heal him and improve his art.

Statue of Princess Di Unveiled – On what would’ve been her 60th birthday, Princes William and Harry unveiled a new statue honoring their late mother.

Survey Says – The AAMD has released its annual salary survey on jobs in the museum world for a variety of different roles.

Greek Police Recover Stolen Paintings – Authorities recovered a Picasso and Mondrian painting stolen almost 10 years ago in a brazen heist.

Archaeologists Discover Massive Monument – A massive, 4,500-year-old burial ground was discovered in Syria, and experts believe it’s the oldest war monument in the world.

Restitution Rules Change – The Dutch government has made a major policy change to its restitution process, saying that it will return stolen artworks to Jewish institutions if heirs are unable to be found.

Sargent’s Debut Features Socially Engaged Art – Writer-curator Antwaun Sargent’s show at Gagosian features Black artists whose work engages and enhances local communities.

Cuban Artist Arrested – Artist Hamlet Lavastida was detained by Cuban officials as part of a massive crackdown on creative expression.

Invisible Sculptors in Visible Battle – A Florida man is suing the Italian artist who sold an invisible sculpture for $18,000, saying he had the idea first.

Portuguese Collector Arrested for Fraud  Joe Berardo, who opened a museum dedicated to his collection, was arrested over alleged ties to a major fraud scheme.

New Yorkers Protest New Monument – Downtown residents of Manhattan are protesting Governor Cuomo’s plan to build a monument to essential workers, saying they weren’t consulted and do not want to lose precious green space.

Getty President to Depart – James Cuno will retire from the Getty Foundation after more than a decade helming the world’s wealthiest institution.

Flinstone House Wins Lawsuit – A judge ruled that a California woman’s quirky “Flinstone House” can keep its array of Bedrock-esque lawn sculptures.

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Artists Are Selling $140 Photographs Online to Support India’s Depleted Hospitals as It Battles a Coronavirus Surge


India, the world’s second most populous nation, is in the throes of a deadly coronavirus surge that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 people in just the past 24 hours. And according to reports from the health ministry, the number of daily infections has exceeded 300,000 every day for the past two weeks.

Now, the arts community is rallying to support overwhelmed hospitals facing dire oxygen shortages.

Art for India, which launched earlier this week and runs through May 9, is a grassroots project selling photographic prints for $140 each by 11 artists from India and its diaspora to raise money for the coronavirus relief group Mission Oxygen.

The project, founded by the London-based Heta Fell, Vivek Vadoliya, and Danielle Pender, will donate 100 percent of its proceeds to the relief organization, a group of more than 250 entrepreneurs in India working to import oxygen concentrators for the hardest-hit hospitals in the country.

In an email to Midnight Publishing Group News, Fell said she was “absolutely distraught” watching the death toll rise, and was “compelled to create something to support people living through this nightmare.”

Fell then reached out to Pender, founder of Riposte magazine, and Vadoliya, a photographer and filmmaker, for help. The trio organized the initiative in just three days.

Artists including Bharat Sikka, Prarthna Singh, Ashish Shah, and Kalpesh Lathigra are contributing to the project. So far, Fell said, they have raised over $27,800, with orders coming in from around the world.

When hot spots in the United States and Europe had similar surges, the art world mobilized with initiatives like Pictures for Elmhurst, which raised $1.38 million for the New York hospital. A similar fundraiser in Italy raised nearly $800,000 to benefit the Pope Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo.

“We are all united around the urgent need to raise funds for India,” Fell said. “It’s also been beautiful to see the sense of community among the artists involved.”

See some of the works for sale below.

Artwork by Avani Rai. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Avani Rai. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Kuba Ryniewicz. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Kuba Ryniewicz. Courtesy of Art for India.

Ashish Shah, <i>Life and Death by the Ganges</i>. Courtesy of Art for India.

Ashish Shah, Life and Death by the Ganges. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Bharat Sikka. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Bharat Sikka. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Devashish Gaur. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Devashish Gaur. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Kalpesh Lathigra. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Kalpesh Lathigra. Courtesy of Art for India.

Kalpesh Lathigra, <i>Dinosaurs and Cameras</i>. Courtesy of Art for India.

Kalpesh Lathigra, Dinosaurs and Cameras. Courtesy of Art for India.


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