As Art Basel Goes Online-Only, European Dealers Are Testing Out Hybrid Virtual/Physical Displays—and Johann König Is Even Launching a Fair of His Own

Galleries in Berlin and London are bringing their digital booths to life.

The exterior of Johann König's St. Agnes Church
Photo: Ludger Paffrath, courtesy Galerie Johann König

Art Basel’s flagship Swiss fair has been postponed until the fall, and while participating galleries will take part in the fair’s online viewing rooms this month, some have also decided to take advantage of Europe’s recent reopenings by supplementing their digital booths with physical presentations. König Galerie and Esther Schipper in Berlin and Thaddaeus Ropac in London are among those hosting physical versions of their virtual fair booths in their galleries.

Johann König is going even further: The dealer is launching his own fair at his space in the former St. Agnes church in Berlin, where galleries began reopening at the end of April. Its title, “Messe in St. Agnes,” is a play on words because messe in German means both “fair” and “church service”. He has mounted temporary walls inside the space, where he will be showing more than 100 primary and secondary market works of 20th- and 21st-century art, consigned from collectors as well as other galleries.

At the same time, König Galerie is also hosting a physical version of its online Basel booth in its gallery. While König emphasizes that his renegade art fair is distinct from the Basel presentation, VIP visitors will have access to both his recreated Basel booth as well as his fair, starting June 15 (the day before Art Basel opens to VIPs online) for two preview days, followed by a public opening from June 17 through 26.

Highlights include a painting on wood by Katharina Grosse from a new body of work, for which they have not yet set prices, and a new work by Alicja Kwade, among other pieces the gallerist stresses work best when they are seen in the flesh.

Promo for König Galeries's Messe in St. Agnes fair.

Promotional image for König Galeries’s Messe in St. Agnes fair.

The dealer is planning to deck the space out with all the trappings of a real fair. He is planning a VIP visit to Katharina Grosse’s exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof, a stand for the bookstore Walther König, a sculpture garden, and catering from the Michelin-starred restaurant Nobelhart & Schmutzig.

There will be no photographs permitted in König’s mini-fair, a decision the dealer says was inspired by the similar policy at Berlin’s infamous Berghain nightclub. Much like high-profile revelers who don’t want to be caught in compromising positions, König wants to offer prominent collectors and consignors discretion, and to ensure that works are not “burned” in the event that they don’t sell.

König likens the material included in his fair to a German evening auction, as the target audience will be collectors traveling from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Highlights include a fresh-to-market Neo Rauch for €700,000, a Georg Baselitz painting for €700,000, a Stefan Balkenhol work for €120,000, a Nicolas Party still life for €750,000, and an early abstract work by Albert Oehlen from the ‘90s, priced at €550,000. Consignments are still open for König’s fair at no charge, but he will take a 15 to 20 percent cut if they do sell. Visitors hoping to attend will have to book a ticket, which König is selling for €10 ($11).

Simon Fujiwara, <i>A Dramatically Enlarged Set of Golden Guillotine Earrings Depicting the Severed Heads of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI</i> (2019). (detail) Courtesy the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin. Photo: © Andrea Rossetti.

Simon Fujiwara, A Dramatically Enlarged Set of Golden Guillotine Earrings Depicting the Severed Heads of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI (2019), detail. Courtesy of the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin. Photo: © Andrea Rossetti.

Elsewhere in the city, Esther Schipper is also mounting what would have been its booth at Art Basel in the gallery’s Berlin space. All of the works that the gallery will show in Basel’s online viewing room will also be on view in the physical gallery, but the exhibition, titled “PS81E” (like a fair booth number), is an expanded version of the presentation, as the Berlin gallery space is about three or four times bigger than its Art Basel booth.

“Art Basel’s online viewing room is limited to 15 works and is also much better suited to two-dimensional works, so there are many more works on view in the gallery,” a spokesperson for the gallery tells Artnet News. 

While the gallery’s online presentation includes work by 12 artists, including two voodoo dolls by AA Bronson and Reima Hirvonen, a pair of enlarged earrings featuring the guillotined heads of French monarchs by Simon Fujiwara, and a dynamic drawing machine by Angela Bulloch, the expanded physical exhibition includes work by 28 artists.

“To some extent, this is an anti-fair,” the gallery says in a statement. “With certain social distancing requirements in place, there will be ample space and plenty of time to engage with each visitor,” unlike the numerous brief encounters compressed into the short timespan of a traditional fair. While the gallery says it is looking forward to the results of the online Art Basel, the physical exhibition acknowledges “the irreplaceable experience of encountering an artwork in person.”

The opening of the show coincides with the VIP opening of Art Basel’s Online Viewing Room, on June 16, but will extend a month beyond Basel’s closing date, until July 25. 

Jack Pierson, <i>BECAUSE YES</i> (2020). ©Jack Pierson Studio. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg.

Jack Pierson, BECAUSE YES (2020). ©Jack Pierson Studio. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg.

Meanwhile, in London, Thaddaeus Ropac is celebrating the reopening its London gallery space at Ely House on Dover Street by mounting a selection from its would-be booth in the gallery’s largest room. (Although some of the works included in the fair’s online viewing room can’t be shown physically in London due to logistics).

Since the space is bigger than the booth at the fair, the gallery will be able to show a larger selection of works. Highlights include a new work by Jack Pierson, and a set of eight eyelash sculptures by Rosemarie Castoro from the 1970s. The exhibition will open on June 16, and the works will remain on view beyond the closure of the fair, through July 31.

Rosemarie Castoro, <i>Land of Lashes</i> (1976). ©Estate of Rosemarie Castoro. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg.

Rosemarie Castoro, Land of Lashes (1976). ©Estate of Rosemarie Castoro. Courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, Paris, Salzburg.

Galleries in London will be cautiously opening from mid-June, so Ropac will be stocked with face masks and hand sanitizers, and will limit visitors to a 25-person capacity. Inside, they will observe social distancing measures and the gallery plans to take temperatures with an infrared thermometer.

“We’re so happy to be re-opening our galleries one by one and we’re of course doing so in accordance with guidelines of the government in each location,” Thaddaeus Ropac tells Artnet News. “Our London reopening on June 16 coincides with Art Basel, so we felt that showing a number of the works at the gallery would be a great way to re-establish the in-person experience of seeing the works for those who are in London.”

The dealer adds that those who aren’t in London can speak via FaceTime or Zoom to a member of the gallery’s team who can show the work by video. “It’s a chance to connect in a way that is a little closer to the way we would in a usual art fair situation, and a way of extending and complementing our Art Basel participation,” Ropac says.


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