In Profile

Paul Kopeikin

BY Sarah Schmerler, May 1, 2013

Photo by Rachel Melvaid

Paul Kopeikin isn’t afraid to be peripatetic when the situation calls for it: a stalwart of the L.A. photo scene for more than 20 years, he moved from Hollywood to the Miracle Mile to West Hollywood to the gallery-rich Culver City district, where he is today. “I’ve moved probably more times than any other gallery in L.A.,” says Kopeikin, “always towards better circumstances.” Down the road from his gallery on La Cienega Boulevard are contemporary galleries like Blum & Poe, Honor Fraser, and Roberts & Tilton, all of whom show contemporary painters, sculptors, and new-media artists — not necessarily photography. Kopeikin makes it his mandate to move across aesthetic boundaries, as well. “I don’t differentiate what I do from anybody else’s contemporary art. I don’t think that distinctions ought to be there to begin with and I never have.”

Kopeikin is affable and as open-minded as he is opinionated. Born and raised in Southern California in a post-war baby-boomer household, Kopeikin discovered photography on his own. While still in junior high, he figured out how to enter the Beverly Hills Art in the Park show, built himself some stands, and even sold his own works. Encouraged, he studied photography until late in his college tenure at U.C. Santa Cruz, ultimately switching his major to theater and film production. Bartending to make ends meet, he worked the San Francisco art-gallery-opening circuit, and John Berggruen Gallery was a regular gig. He wound up working with Berggruen as a preparator, and one day, Berggruen sent him to the house of a paintings restorer who also collected photographs. “It was a seminal moment for me,” relates Kopeikin. “He opened the door and a long hallway was lined with beautiful black-and-white photographs, and then came the main room, where there were these incredible, big paintings. I said, ‘wow, I can’t believe you have all these paintings,’ and he said, ‘oh, I just did those for myself — but the photographs are real.’ I realized, this guy can’t afford to buy paintings, but he can afford to buy photographs.”

A newly minted collector, Kopeikin went to his first art fair in 1981 and promptly bought his first works — two Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Stills, $200 and $250 each. He kept saving and buying, mostly photos and works on paper. He opened his own gallery in 1991, starting out with modern masters like Garry Winogrand, Nicholas Nixon and Marion Post Wolcott, then expanding to lesser-known, contemporary practitioners like Chris Jordan and Jill Greenberg. Today, he prefers doing two solo shows at once, opting for a curatorial approach that is more about counterpoint than confluence. In 2011, Kopeikin paired Steve Fitch, a photographer of rural Americana and signage, and William Steiger, a printmaker who renders architecture in graphic lines and blocks of color. “The works I show together don’t necessarily have anything in common, except for the fact that I find them significant,” he says. “It’s my little kingdom. One of my clients is on the committee of a museum, and other committee members were calling him crazy for buying outside of the zone they deemed safe. ‘Why’d you buy that?’ they’d demand. I told him what to say the next time they ask — and it’s the only answer I think is valid. ‘Because I like it.’”