The Twins behind Kapp Kapp on Building a Gallery Program to Champion Queer Artists

Art Market

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

After college, Sam worked at Lévy Gorvy (now LGDR) as an artist liaison to names like Pat Steir and Karin Schneider for four years, while Daniel held a position with Marian Goodman Gallery’s communication team for half a decade. “We have been lucky to have wound up at such institutions run by women, especially Jewish women,” Sam told Artsy. What they call “a burning desire” to own their own gallery turned into a reality when they opened Kapp Kapp in the fall of 2019, not in New York, but rather 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—besides, Sam had just quit his job and moved there for his boyfriend’s work. Kapp Kapp’s inaugural exhibition, “Tulips,” a solo show of works by queer New York photographer Stanley Stellar, hinted at the gallery’s future vision from the get-go and checked 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. Offering a bridge between two cities, the show opened in Philadelphia’s “gayborhood”—at the nexus of 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 the Stonewall Uprising through 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 a certain categorization or follow a generational or material-based plan,” Sam said. That flexibility extends to the way the Kapps discover 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 bygone queer sites, such as the piers and downtown gay clubs. “Despite our over 40-year age gap, we have built a karmic relationship with Stanley,” Daniel added.

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

Stanley Stellar, June Afternoon1991. Courtesy of the artist and Kapp Kapp.

After a show of paintings and sculptures by the New Jersey-based artist Bette Blank, their plan to open Brooklyn-based painter Lily Wong’s debut exhibition coincided with the first surge 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 busyness for the two, as Sam managed the Philadelphia gallery and Daniel zigzagged between Brooklyn (where he lives with his boyfriend), Midtown (for his weekday job at Marian Goodman Gallery), and Tribeca. (to work at Kapp Kapp during weekends). “In hindsight, the seven-day work schedule was ambitious,” Daniel remembered. He would leave the security of his full-time job in 2021. Walking away from steady work to focus on Kapp Kapp was a move the brothers made in “blind optimism,” but their backgrounds in the gallery world gave them important insight into running their own, “such as planning the calendar ahead—we have the programming of the next year and half figured out.”

Those insights have also helped them make decisions from the difficult to the exciting. For example, they closed the Philadelphia chapter this past 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 need to build our presence in one location,” the brothers explained. On a happier note, that one location is thriving: They moved to a new space in Tribeca five times larger than their original New York gallery earlier this year. They inaugurated the new location with a show of Stellar’s photographs, focusing on his work documenting the piers. Chronicling New York’s historic temple of queer intimacy, the images show the Hudson River waterfront as a hub for hook-ups and a relic of industrialist architecture.

“We have a commitment to our artists whose works have been leveling up, and we are excited to be a part of this moment with them,” Daniel said about the gallery’s growth. Within the gallery’s three-year history, artists like Molly Greene, Luke O’Halloran, and Wong had their solo debuts at Kapp Kapp. And while growing along with newcomers is a goal, guarding the legacy of others is also key. “We’ve been lucky to build fantastic relationships with emerging artists, but we see ourselves more than an emerging gallery,” Sam said.

During his time, Kapp Kapp has reintroduced work by former generations: In addition to Stellar, painter Gilbert Lewis had his first solo show in 14 years with Kapp Kapp in 2020. Safeguarding Lewis’s work is especially important to the gallerists, as he hasn’t produced any new paintings in the past decade due to Alzheimer’s disease. “We have to be conscious about informing the public about Gilbert’s paintings on queer life in the right way,” Sam said, “and speak for an artist who is unable to do so for himself.”

Championing queer artists has been an organic outcome of the brothers’ mutual interests and tastes, whether searching for new talent or contextualizing overlooked bodies of work for a new audience. “Queerness is central to our thinking without a generational or stylistic priority,” Daniel said. In this direction, they promise that the gallery’s upcoming programming will be “very Kapp Kapp.”

That 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 that explores the folk artist Clementine Hunter, who lived in Louisiana for around 100 years during the 20th century. A September solo show 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 will also publish 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 that’s been unafraid to take risks while promoting its succinct vision.

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