Osman Can Yerebakan
Sam Kapp and Daniel Kapp. Photo by Stanley Stellar. Lent by Kapp Kapp.
Twin brothers Sam and Daniel Kapp work from two adjacent desktops on their eponymous Tribeca gallery. “We’re a team of two people running the entire operation,” Sam said. Hidden behind the Cape Cape – whose current group exhibition, “Lingua Franca”, features works by Susan Cianciolo, Richard Tuttle, Louis Osmosis, gallery artist Hannah Beerman and others – the purple computers reproduce the color of the three-year-old gallery’s similarly colored butterfly logo. This attention to detail is shared by the partners, but the background that brought them to run their own space is quite different.
After college, Sam worked for Lévy Gorvy (now LGDR) as an artist for names like Pat Steir and Karin Schneider for four years, while Daniel held a position with Marian Goodman Gallery’s communications team for half a decade. “We have been fortunate to have liquidated such institutions run by women, especially Jewish women,” Sam told Artsy. What they call “a burning desire” to own their own gallery came true when they opened Cape Town in the fall of 2019, not in New York, but instead in their mother’s hometown, Philadelphia, where they grew up.
Philadelphia was a perfect launching pad with its large artist population, rich museum presence and proximity to New York – moreover, Sam had just quit his job and moved there for his girlfriend’s work. Kapp Kapp’s opening exhibition, “Tulips,” a solo exhibition of works by queer New York photographer Stanley Stellar, hinted at the gallery’s vision of the future from the start and marked many boxes in its mission.
“We are constantly thinking about longevity and building careers for artists by helping the public receive and understand an artist’s language,” Sam said. The show offered a bridge between two cities and opened in Philadelphia’s “gayborhood” – in conjunction with the Chinatown, Society Hill and Rittenhouse Square neighborhoods – and introduced to a new audience a somewhat overlooked artist whose ambitious oeuvre documented New York’s queer youth from Stonewall- the uprising through the AIDS epidemic.
Installation image of “Lingua Franca” on Kapp Kapp. Lent by the artists and Kapp Kapp.
“We are not approaching our program with a particular categorization or following a generation- or material-based plan,” Sam said. That flexibility extends to the way Kapps discovers artists. After following Stellar’s work on Tumblr for years, the brothers reached out to the 77-year-old photographer and dug through hundreds of images that captured faded queer sites, such as the piers and gay clubs in the center. “Despite our over 40-year age difference, we have built a karmic relationship with Stanley,” Daniel added.
The first room in Philadelphia – “an experiment”, as Kapps calls it – expanded into a Tribeca outpost in January 2020, perhaps at the most unfortunate moment to open a storefront. “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. Lent by the artist and Kapp Kapp.
After a show featuring paintings and sculptures by New Jersey-based artist Bette Blank, their plan to open Brooklyn-based painter Lily Wong’s debut exhibition coincided with the first wave of COVID-19. They had a chance to photograph the show a day or so before the city went into lockdown, and they reopened with their second Stellar show, “Night, Life,” in June.
The following months were a time of both growth and challenging bustle for the two, as Sam managed the Philadelphia Gallery and Daniel zigzagged between Brooklyn (where he lives with his girlfriend), Midtown (for his everyday job at the Marian Goodman Gallery) and Tribeca (at work at Kapp Kapp at the weekend). “In hindsight, the seven-day work schedule was ambitious,” Daniel recalled. He wanted to leave the security of his full-time job in 2021. Going away from a steady job to focus on the Cape Cape was a step the brothers took in “blind optimism”, but their background in the gallery world gave them important insights into running their own, ” such as planning the calendar ahead – we have 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 in January last year, even though they have an office there and hope to occasionally organize stand-alone curatorial projects. “The way Philadelphia interacts with art is slower, and we need to build our presence in one place,” the brothers explained. On a happier note, a location thrives: They moved to a new room in Tribeca five times larger than their original New York gallery earlier this year. They inaugurated the new place with a show of Stellar’s photographs, focusing on his work documenting the piers. The images tell of New York’s historic temple of queer intimacy and show the Hudson River waterfront as a hub for hookups and a relic of industrialist architecture.
“We have a commitment to our artists whose works have risen, and we’re excited to be a part of this moment with them,” Daniel said of the gallery’s growth. Within the gallery’s three-year history, artists such as Molly Greene, Luke O’Halloran and Wong had their solo debut at Kapp Kapp. And while it is a goal to grow with newcomers, it is also important to cherish the heritage of others. “We’ve been lucky to build amazing relationships with new artists, but we see ourselves as more than a budding gallery,” Sam said.
Kapp Kapp has in its time reintroduced works by previous generations: In addition to Stellar, the painter Gilbert Lewis had his first solo exhibition in 14 years with Kapp Kapp in 2020. Protecting Lewis’ work is especially important for gallery owners, as he has not done so. produced new paintings in the last decade due to Alzheimer’s disease. “We need to be conscious of informing the public about Gilbert’s paintings about queer life in the right way,” Sam said, “and speaking for an artist who is unable to do it for himself.”
Fighting for queer artists has been an organic result of the brothers’ common interests and tastes, whether they are looking for new talent or contextualizing overlooked works for a new audience. “Queerness is central to our thinking without a generational or stylistic priority,” Daniel said. In that direction, they promise that the gallery’s upcoming programming will be “very Kapp Kapp.”
It will include the New York debut of Paris-based painter Alex Foxton’s chunky male figures with abstract cues; a joint show with Montana-based twin-ceramic artists Haylie and Sydnie Jimenez; and an exhibition exploring folk artist Clementine Hunter, who lived in Louisiana for about 100 years during the 20th century. A solo show in September with Greene will coincide with the gallery’s first Armory Show presentation in the fair’s “Presents” section, with a booth dedicated to Providence-based duo Velvet Other World’s large-scale canvases.
Kapp Kapp is also publishing its first catalog for the autumn, a publication dedicated to a larger collection of Stellar’s works. Continuing to support the photographer’s vision is another appropriate first place for a gallery that has not been afraid to take risks while promoting its concise vision.