Artist Kendall Koppe and gallerist Emma Astner founded the Glasgow gallery Koppe Astner in 2006 but reached a landmark this year when one of the first artists they represented, the Scottish sculptor and film artist Charlotte Prodger, was nominated for the Turner Prize. They champion contemporary artists from around the world producing media from sketches to full room installations. They focus on individuals such as women or LGBTQ+ artists who are under-represented in modern galleries.
How did you meet?
Astner: We met in Basel in the Kunsthalle museum; Kendall was ranting over the price of a Big Mac in Switzerland. We kept meeting at fairs and carried on a conversation, always joking that one day we would work together. Glasgow was a natural fit because that was where Kendall had studied and it has a longstanding tradition of artists paving the way for their own voices.
How do you go about discovering artists?
Koppe: From the onset I was interested in the queer and female voices of our generation. Historically, these voices have always been overshadowed; creating a space that focused on this was pertinent to an unbalanced art world. I keep this in mind whenever we look for artists and when I look at art.
Astner: The process of finding artists is so fluid. We often meet artists socially and start a conversation that then develops over months or even years. Then we try to think of a good opportunity to do something together — a fair or an exhibition at the gallery — and eventually, if it feels right to us and to the artist, we add them to our roster.
It’s quite a serious step to take: once you represent an artist it is an almost unconditional commitment to promoting them and their practice. There can often be years of showing an artist at fairs and in the gallery where there is little or no interest, but this only makes it all the more satisfying when things take off and the artist gets the attention they deserve. It feels like a shared triumph.
How would you characterise the type of work you show?
Astner: Most of our artists relate a narrative of personal experience to larger social issues, gender politics, art history and popular culture.
Name your top three influences
Astner: [Television personality] Kris Jenner.
Koppe: Queer history and culture, and great fiction.
What do you think art should add to a space?
Astner: I’m more interested in what art does to your mind than what it does to a space. I believe art should take a familiar experience, thought or question and make you experience it in a different way — as if it’s putting a glitch in the neurological paths your brain normally accesses.
What has been your most exciting sale or the artist you are most proud of working with?
Astner: Sales are essential but are not the focus of our business. Seeing our artists’ work exhibited in museums is the most satisfying, whether through an acquisition or in a show. George Henry Longly recently had a solo exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, which was an exciting milestone.
We will also have two artists representing their countries at the Venice Biennale in 2019: Kris Lemsalu will represent Estonia and Charlotte Prodger Scotland.
Koppe: I’m excited by all our artists, what they make and think. Sales are a welcome bonus. I had the honour of working with Emory Douglas from the Black Panther party [a rights movement that grew up in the US in the late 1960s] — his experience and mind are invaluable.
If you could choose one artist, living or dead, to paint a bespoke piece for you, who would it be?
Astner: Frida Kahlo. I never tire of her paintings — beautiful but laden with violent suffering.
Koppe: Robert Mapplethorpe. There is a particular quietness that speaks volumes within his images. It’s a notably queer language.
Is there anyone in your field you particularly admire?
Astner: I have immense respect and admiration for my peers. Vanessa Carlos of Carlos/Ishikawa is someone whose vision and opinions I place great value on. We run things by each other so often; we joke that we are director-at-large at each other’s galleries.
How would you describe your homes?
Astner: Sparse. Unnecessary objects make me anxious.
Koppe: Eclectic. I love living with pieces that I collect or get given.
What has been the strangest project you have worked on?
Astner: I worked on Mark Wallinger’s [Titian-inspired 2012] show at London’s National Gallery, because I was his assistant in the days before Koppe Astner. I had to find 25 women named Diana who would be willing to take shifts grooming themselves in a replica of a bathroom with peepholes for the public to observe them from. It was a funny and unique journey, but the result was spectacular.
What do you look for in a client?
Astner: Genuine enthusiasm and a sense of humour, and it’s nice to have a dialogue that continues over many years.
Koppe: Humour, definitely. Also the urge to collect what they want without following trends or what other people have.
The design and art worlds move quickly. How do you keep abreast of the next thing?
Astner: Talking to peers, talking to our artists, seeing shows in the cities we travel to, walking through art fairs and researching online.
Koppe: It’s almost like you need to keep headphones on to drown out the noise of constant images and trends that will just come and go. I like to choose what I see and try to avoid over-saturation.
What do you see as the overriding trend in your field at the moment, even if you don’t subscribe to it?
Astner: We are still figuring out how to optimise a virtual experience of art. Not unrelated to that, many people are questioning the conventional gallery and art fair models.
Koppe: Sadly, greed is an overriding trend in all aspects of life. I never want it near me.
Photographs: Courtesy of Koppe Astner, Glasgow; Philip Ryan; Nicolas Deshayes