Gallery owner Johann König on the digital transformation of the art sector, the significance of personal experiences and the allure of art for young target groups. An interview with Eva Simone Lihotzky.

EVA SIMONE LIHOTZKY: Mr König, you are regarded as one of Germany’s leading gallery owners. In recent months, you have designed and implemented a number of digital formats, such as an exhibition called The Artist Is Online together with Anika Meier. The international group exhibition could be seen offline at the KÖNIG GALERIE and online in Decentraland, a virtual world based on blockchain technology. What has been your experience with formats like these?

JOHANN KÖNIG: We are initiating many of these digital formats on www. misa.art with a view to being accessible and removing barriers and thresholds. For instance, in Decentraland – a virtual world based on blockchain technology – we held an online exhibition that ended with an online auction. However, we found that it was very difficult to access and that collectors were finding it difficult to buy an NFT – the underlying process was too complex (editor’s note: non-fungible tokens – NFTs for short – are counterfeit-proof certificates stored on a blockchain, effectively rendering digital artworks unique). As a result, we set up our own marketplace that allows people to pay with credit cards and bank transfers. This makes the market more accessible.

Do you think the art world will hold onto digital platforms like this in future or are they just a passing fad?

JK: No, they’re definitely here to stay. What’s also interesting is the technological possibilities that it opens up. That’s why we are planning to sell fractionalised artworks on www.misa.art as well – so people can buy part of an artwork instead of the whole thing. We believe that this will get far more people interested in art and lead to a greater identification with the market.

In another interview, you say that one of the main functions of the art world is to allow people to experience art more. In the business world, this would be termed ‘customer centricity’. What does the art sector need to do to be more customer- centric in its thinking?

JK: To answer this, I asked myself: “Why don’t people buy art? Or, to put it another way, what reasons are there for not buying art?” We then tried to identify and eliminate these objections one by one. In most cases, it’s because people don’t know the price or aren’t able to determine if the given price is reasonable – or sometimes it’s trivial things like not knowing how much it will cost to transport the artwork home. We resolved all of this with a software that brings all of these factors together

Immersive art experiences are an art form where the audience takes centre stage – just like Turkish-American artist Refik Anadol does with his works. What makes these artists’ work so special?

JK: First of all, I believe that art is always a holistic experience. And that you always need to feel it – not just see it. When you look at Refik Anadol’s art, it’s like being hypnotised: they are always moving and, thanks to AI, always new. That’s why it’s like a kind of meditative performance. He has succeeded in bringing aesthetics and concept together.

Do people who visit an immersive art exhibition have a different connection to art than they might have with traditional exhibitions?

JK: For me, it’s important for all KÖNIG GALERIE exhibitions to be immersive experiences – so we can use a space to let people experience something that they wouldn’t normally be able to. It’s only by offering your visitors an experience money can’t buy that you will make a lasting impression on them. At the same time, I believe that the experience factor in itself is becoming increasingly important. And that, in the age of social media, it’s very important to share the experiences with others, so that they in turn will feel compelled to experience them and will also be in a position to do so.

Do you think there will be more and more collaborations between commercial enterprises and artists in order to create exactly the kind of experiences we are talking about here?

JK: We are getting more and more commissions in this area in particular. This is because companies – or their brands – are not familiar with this kind of thing, don’t understand how the art market works and don’t know what relevant positions there are for specific target groups. We, on the other hand, have plenty of expertise and know what the right artistic position is for any given company. This is definitely an area that is not directly related to our gallery work where we are positioning ourselves to a greater and greater extent. We take a close look at the companies in question and determine what they stand for, what they want to achieve with the artistic collaboration and what target group they are aiming to reach. We also carry out a data-based analysis so that we can find the right position for the right company.

And then when you have your findings, you come together with the artists to create experiences that will make a lasting impression on the companies’ end consumers?

JK: It’s a mixture of things. It needs to be related to the brand and, in some cases, it needs to sell the brand – and of course it also aims to make something possible. But due to the fascination for art among a younger generation – or a wider group of people – we are also noticing that more and more companies are exploring the possibilities offered by art.

Why does art play such a great role among younger generations in particular?

JK: It’s because their own creativity plays a more important role. And because art and their own preferences and niche interests are a lot more accessible these days thanks to the internet and social media.

So you believe that, if companies differentiate themselves through various art collaborations, this could put them higher on the radar of younger generations?

JK: Absolutely! Thank you for talking to us, Mr König.

This artice first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the eighth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “A human-driven future: How humans are shaping the digital world of tomorrow”. The e-paper is available here.

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