He Can’t See All the Art, but He’s One of Germany’s Top Dealers

“I don’t choose artworks, I choose artists”: Johann König says his near-blindness makes him a smarter gallerist.

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With a fashion label, a magazine and a roster of up-and-coming artists who regularly pick up awards, prestigious commissions and solo museum exhibitions, Johann König has a reputation as one of Germany’s most influential young art dealers. His customers include the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York. On Nov. 9 he will open a gallery in Tokyo, adding a new outpost to an empire that already includes spaces in Berlin and London.

But some of the art Mr. König shows, he can’t actually see.

A childhood accident left Mr. König partially blind — a disability that might seem an insurmountable barrier to his chosen career. But being visually impaired might even help him distinguish profound and enduring works from art that is superficial and ephemeral, he says.

In a recent interview in Berlin, Mr. König, 38, flicked through his phone to a photo of a concrete block in the upscale Ginza shopping district of Tokyo, where the third König Galerie will open. The building, which his gallery will share with the luxury clothing brand MCM, is slated for demolition, Mr. König explained.

It sounds unpromising, but unorthodox settings are a trademark for Mr. König. His London gallery is in an underground garage. The Berlin flagship, in a district flattened by World War II bombs, opened in 2015 in a converted Brutalist church where Mr. König also lives with his family.

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