The twins behind Kapp Kapp on building a gallery program to promote queer artists

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Osman Can Yerebakan

Sam Kapp and Daniel Kapp. Photo by Stanley Stellar. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Twin brothers Sam and Daniel Kapp work from two adjacent desktop computers in their eponymous Tribeca gallery. “We’re a two-person team running the entire operation,” Sam said. Tucked away at the back of Kapp Kapp — whose current group show, Lingua Franca, features work by Susan Cianciolo, Richard Tuttle, Louis Osmosis, gallery artist Hannah Beerman, and others — the purple computers mirror the three-year-old’s similarly colored butterfly logo of the old gallery. This attention to detail is shared by the partners, but the backgrounds that led them to co-direct their own space are quite different.

After college, Sam worked at Lévy Gorvy (now LGDR) for four years as an artist contact to the likes of Pat Steir and Karin Schneider, while Daniel held a position on the communications team at Marian Goodman Gallery for half a decade. “We were fortunate to have ended up in institutions like this that are run by women, especially Jewish women,” Sam told Artsy. What they describe as a “burning desire” to have their own gallery became a reality when they opened Kapp Kapp in the fall of 2019, not in New York but in Philadelphia, their mother’s hometown where they grew up.

With its large artist population, rich museum presence, and proximity to New York, Philadelphia was a perfect place to start—plus, Sam had just quit his job and moved there for his friend’s work. Kapp Kapp’s inaugural exhibition, Tulips, a solo show featuring work by queer New York photographer Stanley Stellar, foreshadowed the gallery’s vision for the future from the start and checked many boxes in its mission.

“We’re constantly thinking about longevity and building careers for artists by helping the public receive and understand an artist’s language,” Sam said. The bridging exhibition between two cities opened in Philadelphia’s “Gayborhood” — at the crossroads of Chinatown, Society Hill and Rittenhouse Square — and introduced a new audience to a somewhat overlooked artist whose ambitious oeuvre documents New York’s queer youth Stonewall uprising caused by the AIDS epidemic.

Installation view of “Lingua Franca” at Kapp Kapp. Courtesy of the artists and Kapp Kapp.

“We don’t approach our program with any particular categorization or follow a generational or material-based plan,” Sam said. This flexibility also extends to the way Kapps discovers artists. After years of following Stellar’s work on Tumblr, the brothers reached out to the 77-year-old photographer and sifted through hundreds of images showing bygone queer places like piers and downtown gay clubs. “Despite our age difference of over 40 years, we developed a karmic relationship with Stanley,” Daniel added.

That initial Philadelphia space — “an experiment,” as the Kapps call it — expanded to a Tribeca outpost in January 2020, at perhaps the most unfortunate moment to open a physical store. “We moved to this neighborhood to be close to some of our favorite places like Queer Thoughts and Bortolami,” Daniel said.

stanley stellar, June afternoon1991. Courtesy of the artist and Kapp Kapp.

Following an exhibition of paintings and sculptures by New Jersey-based artist Bette Blank, her plan to open Brooklyn-based painter Lily Wong’s debut exhibition coincided with the first wave of COVID-19. They got the chance to shoot the show about a day before the city went into lockdown, and they opened with their second Stellar show, Night, Life, in June.

The months that followed were both a time of growth and challenging busyness for the pair, as Sam managed the gallery in Philadelphia and Daniel zigzagged between Brooklyn (where he lives with his boyfriend), Midtown (for his weekday job at the Marian Goodman Gallery ) and Tribeca commuted back and forth (to work at Kapp Kapp on weekends). “In retrospect, the seven-day work schedule was ambitious,” Daniel recalls. He would give up the security of his full-time job in 2021. The brothers left steady jobs to focus on Kapp Kapp, a move the brothers took in “blind optimism,” but their background in the gallery world gave them important insights into running their own business, “like planning the calendar ahead of time – we figured out the programming for the next year and a half.”

These insights have also helped them make decisions from the difficult to the exciting. For example, they closed the Philadelphia Chapter last January, although they maintain an office there and hope to occasionally organize one-off curatorial projects. “The way Philadelphia interacts with art is slower, and we have to build our presence in one place,” the brothers explained. Fortunately, that one location is thriving: Earlier this year, they moved into a new space in Tribeca that’s five times larger than their original New York gallery. They inaugurated the new site with an exhibition of Stellar’s photographs, centered on his work documenting the piers. The images chronicle New York’s historic temples of queer intimacy and depict the Hudson River waterfront as a hub of connection and a relic of industrial architecture.

“We are committed to our artists whose work has improved and we are excited to be a part of this moment with them,” said Daniel of the gallery’s growth. In the gallery’s three-year history, artists such as Molly Greene, Luke O’Halloran and Wong have made their solo debuts at Kapp Kapp. And while growing with newcomers is a goal, it’s also important to preserve the legacy of others. “We’ve been fortunate to have fantastic relationships with emerging artists, but we see ourselves more as an emerging gallery,” said Sam.

During his tenure, Kapp Kapp has reintroduced works by previous generations: alongside Stellar, painter Gilbert Lewis had his first solo exhibition at Kapp Kapp in 14 years in 2020. Protecting Lewis’ work is particularly important to gallery owners as he has not produced any new paintings in the last decade due to Alzheimer’s disease. “We need to be aware of educating the public about queer life in the right way about Gilbert’s paintings,” Sam said, “and speaking up for an artist who isn’t capable of doing that.”

Commitment to queer artists is a natural outgrowth of the brothers’ shared interests and tastes, whether it’s scouting for new talent or contextualizing overlooked works for new audiences. “Queerness is central to our thinking with no generational or stylistic priority,” Daniel said. In this direction, they promise that the gallery’s upcoming program will be “very Kapp Kapp”.

These include the New York debut of Paris-based painter Alex Foxton’s chunky male figures with abstract references; a joint exhibition with Montana-based ceramic artist twins Haylie and Sydnie Jimenez; and an exhibit about folk artist Clementine Hunter, who lived in Louisiana for about 100 years in the 20th century. A solo show with Greene in September coincides with the gallery’s first Armory Show presentation in the Presents section of the fair, with a booth dedicated to the large-scale canvases by Providence-based duo Velvet Other World.

Kapp Kapp will also release its first catalog this fall, a publication dedicated to a larger collection of Stellar’s work. Continuing to support the photographer’s vision is another fitting first for a gallery unafraid to take risks while promoting their succinct vision.

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