Interview with Emma Astner and Kendall Koppe, founder of the gallery Koppe Astner in Glasgow
The story of Koppe Astner begins in Basel: After first meeting on the dance floor at Kunsthalle, for Emma Astner and Kendall Koppe the idea of working together developed quite naturally over time. In 2015 they founded Koppe Astner, which is operating from one of the hidden places in the art world, Glasgow.
When have you founded the gallery?
Kendall has had a gallery in Glasgow since 2011, we started working together as Koppe Astner in 2015.
What has motivated you to open a gallery together?
Emma Astner: We met in Basel on the dance floor of Kunsthalle; Kendall was outraged over the price of a Big Mac in Switzerland. We were both at Liste, Kendall had just opened his gallery and I was working for a small London gallery. We kept meeting at fairs and carried on a conversation about what artists we were interested in and what shows we were seeing. We looked out for one another, asking for advice and lending a hand with install and packing. We always joked that one day we would work together. A few years later we were in Basel again and it felt natural to take that step. It was very organic, we always say, all good things happen in Basel!
What brought you into contemporary art in the first place? What is your background?
Kendall Koppe: We both grew up in New York and have early memories of going to museums. My mother used to let me skip school and take me to MoMA. I didn’t realise how formative those experiences were but I never forgot them.
EA: I remember going to the Jenny Holzer show at the Guggenheim when I was seven. My mother said, “Remember this, it’s good.” I suppose that was my introduction.
Is there someone who influenced you in a particular way?
EA: One of my first jobs was in Tacita Dean’s studio. She has such a complex and brilliant mind, I feel privileged to have worked so closely with her. Spending that time in the studio has always made me see my job from that perspective. This is a vast and complex industry but the artist’s studio is the heart of it – I try to never lose sight of that. I am grateful to have worked for women who challenged and encouraged me,Tacita was a very infuential one.
Tell us about your program. What kind of art do you represent?
Our programme is very closely tied to our generation, the artists we have met in the various places we have lived. The relationships are very personal and inform how we work together, and vice versa. We often respond to queer and female voices which are still drastically under represented in museums, institutions and galleries. After 6 years we still meet curators and collectors that are surprised that the majority of our artists are women.
How do you decide to add a new artist?
Through friends, artists we work with, seeing shows and constant research.
Can you describe the art scene around you in Glasgow?
KK: There is a very good art school in Glasgow and thus there has always been a community of artists, curators, writers, designers and thinkers living here. People, myself included, move from around the world to study at Glasgow School of Art. The city’s edge and resilience is charming in a strange nihilistic way that draws people to stay. The culture is passionate and no-nonsense and offers a sustainable opportunity for creative people to have their practice.
When I moved here in the late 90s there was an underground music and party scene that fed into this hive of creativity. I remember dancing on the top floor of an abandoned building with a live band playing, there were sculptures everywhere and bird shit on everything.I was thinking, “This building is going to collapse and we are all going to die” but there was no where else in the world I would have rather been. Self initiated, DIY spaces are what Glasgow’s art scene is forged from and what draw many people here. Being slightly removed and having more sustainable economic conditions means that artists and exhibition spaces can develop at their own pace and have more leeway to take risks. Glasgow is tough but has a gold tooth!
How would you describe the role of a gallery in the art world today?
Offering artists support, dialogue, context and exposure.
How does digitalization affect your work as a gallerist?
There have been extraordinary developments in technology yet strangely this has not had a significant impact on traditional gallery structures and operations. Sure, we email jpgs and PDFs all the time but we also still ship works around the world to show them in our gallery or at fairs and we still travel the world to see exhibitions and meet people.
Tell us about a difficult moment and a happy moment in your career as a gallerist.
EA: A particularly happy moment for me was last year during Glasgow International when Leila Hekmat put on a play in an empty space we had upstairs. I’ve known Leila for almost 20 years and have always been totally in awe of her sensibility–the way she consumes images, clothing, TV, film and music. She is also one of the funniest people I have ever met. In her plays, all of this comes together and hosting “The French Mistake” in our gallery was personally and professionally exhilarating and satisfying.
The most difficult moments are always financial. It’s not an easy time to be an emerging gallery, especially as the art world has become a corporate system that gets harder and harder to fight against. While we have many of the same costs as an established gallery we do not have the price point that brings those sums back in.
KK: For me working with Black Panther Minister Emory Douglas was a highlight. Emory designed the visual identity of the Panther’s and has been a leading activist from the 60s through to the present. I spent months finding Black Panther ephemera from around the world. Emory didn’t keep anything he made, he let it become a part of the world and a part of the cause so many of the works I found, he hadn’t seen since the early 60s. He told me stories that I could never have read in books, a lot of them reminded me of my own childhood in New York before Guliani cleaned up and gentrified the city. Working with Emory was and remains a total honour.
What exhibitions or projects do you have planned in the months to come?
We have a Kris Lemsalu show up in London at the moment as part of Condo, a collaborative exhibition where selected London galleries host galleries from around the world. We are hosted by Southard Reid who is showing Neal Jones. We are always up for participating in these type of self organised, collaborative exhibition models which seem to be happening more frequently. In the gallery we have solo shows with Corin Sworn, Grace Weaver and Kris Lemsalu planned.
And finally, how do you see your gallery in a decade?
Koppe Astner takes part in Liste–Art Fair Basel from June 13th to 18th, 2017. The gallery will present a selection of works by Grace Weaver, George Henry Longly and Charlotte Prodger.
Koppe Astner has participated in the 2nd edition of Paris Internationale in Paris from October 19th to 23rd 2016.
Suite 1—2, 6 Dixon Street
Glasgow, G1 4AX
Wednesday to Saturday: 12—6pm