Paul Kopeikin's Bookcases

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday June 18, 2020

Pimp Your Bookcases continues with Paul Kopeikin, who must have had a sixth sense going when he shuttered his LA Gallery in January. He currently represents his artists from his Echo Park home and storage unit, while looking forward to the new normal of future fairs and pop-ups.

Peggy Roalf: What were you involved with when you decided on your career choice?

Paul Kopeikin: I studied theater at UC Santa Cruz and thought I would be a firm director, or at least that was my dream at the time. I had a weird thing happen where I was admitted to Graduate School at NYU (same class as the Coen Brothers) on a Monday and then told that Friday they had made a clerical error and I actually didn’t get it. I was living in San Francisco at the time and that disappointment really threw me off. I was bartending and started working for a gallery, first as a bartender and then as an assistant. These were good years to start a gallery, but I was still focused on a career in the movie business and so I left San Francisco after a couple of years to go down to LA. I was starting my independent post-college life, trying to write a screenplay while working in the Industry. But I was still unfocused and not very talented and so I had a languishing career, bouncing between below the line production work and above the line working as for a couple of different producers. At one point I got sick of the entire thing and decided I needed to do something different. Starting a gallery seemed like an easy thing to do and something I could do on my own, so I went for it and opened in November 1991.

PR: When did you realize that books would be important in your life? 

PK: Books seem to have always been important to me. Even as a child I loved my books and I continued to buy and read books throughout my school and college years. I have never lived anywhere where there were not a lot of book cases, not always full. I consider it an essential piece of furniture.

PR: When did you realize that you had become a true collector of photo- and artbooks?

PK: I had been buying photography books since college but they were always kept in my house. My first gallery was too small to have any books there and so when I moved to  my second gallery I built bookshelves behind the front desk. I remember building them with art books in mind. Maybe the shelves were four feet long and I can remember when I filled the first one with books that it felt as if I was really starting a “library.” At this point I only bought photography books and you could easily buy every significant one that came out as comparatively few were published back then.

PR: What went into your current choice of bookcases — any research? Any seen/envied among friends/colleagues? Any particular manufacturer?

PK: I knew that bookshelves had to be built to fit the books that were going to go into them, and so I always had large shelves. I made the mistake of making built-ins so that when I moved I had to leave them. So at one point I made the shelves modular so that they could move with me, and that worked out really well. Somewhere in the early 2000’s I already had several hundred books and had started to buy duplicates of anything I felt was important enough, so I was building a small, separate library of duplicates that I kept at home as well as the main library at the gallery. And actually I started a third collection after my daughter was born; I made a concerted effort to buy art books that might interest her rather than photography books. When I got divorced I kept the art library and duplicates of the photography collection mostly at my ex-wife and daughter’s house while at the same time building shelves and starting to fill them when I eventually moved into my own house.

I should say that one of the reasons I could buy so many books was that when I opened the gallery I contacted all the major books distributors and set up accounts as a book-seller, operating from the gallery. But I was able to buy all I wanted at 40-50% off the retail price, and this was mostly before, so I bought a lot of books. It seemed the more I acquired the more I wanted.

PR: What do you like most about your bookcases?

PK: They’re the right size for large art books.

PR:: Are they everything you every hoped for or is there room for improvement?

PK: There’s just room for, or at least the desire for, more shelves, always.

PR: What went into your research and design process when you contemplated building your own?

PK: I actually did build my own books shelves for my second gallery. I’m not a carpenter so I measured it all out and had the wood cut at a lumber yard. The workers at a lumber yard usually aren’t the most careful, but I explained to them that I needed their finest work and it turned out they could do a great job if motivated. Those shelves eventually went home with me when my library got too big and they’re still in my ex-wife’s house.

PR: If you had planned on building your own but changed your mind in favor of readymades, what happened?

PK: My requirements outstripped my ability to fulfill those requirements.

PR: Have your shelves ever collapsed under the weight of your books? Or have your photo-and-artbook caused any other type of disaster caused by big heavy books?

PK: Early on before I fully knew what I needed, I under-built my bookshelves; they collapsed and books were ruined.

PR: How you organize your photo-and-artbooks?

PK: At the gallery they were alphabetical, but by the time I was in my last place the collection had grown to around 2,000 books and overtook even the shelving I thought I had had enough of, so things started to get haphazard.

PR: How do you maintain your library? For example, do you periodically take it apart and reorganize, or something along those lines?

PK: No, it rarely gets touched.

PR: Have you ever had to move your library? What are the best and worst things about moving this kind of collection?

PK: I have moved my library too many times! I hired two people who worked for several weeks the last time I moved. Each box was photographed and numbered, coordinated with the photo so I am sure what is in each box. There are over 150 boxes and they are in storage as we speak. That’s the main library, which, by-the-way, is for sale. There remain hundreds of books at my ex-wife’s house and my house combined, where the pictures here were taken. And I still have many duplicates in storage.

PR: Please feel free to make this a mashup:

What is the first photo-or-artbook you ever bought and why did it catch your attention?

I can’t remember the first photo book I ever bought but I can tell you that the book that started me on my path in photography is “The Family of Man” which was in my house growing up. I know that is true for many of my colleagues

• What was the last photo-or-artbook you purchased?

I recently purchased David Benjamin Sherry’s landscape book published by Radius, but can’t remember if I bought anything since.

• What is the next photo-or-artbook you might purchase?

There is so much published now that I am really only buying books I feel will last the test of time, which has greatly reduced what I buy. But I m always on the lookout for any books that have to do with snapshots and vernacular photography in general.

PR: Is there a rarity that somehow got away that you regret not grabbing when it was affordable?

PK: I passed up a pristine first edition of Robert Frank’s "The Americans” because I didn’t have the $2,500 at the time.

PR: Can you advise the readers on anything you feel should be avoided in the planning and construction/installation of bookcases?

PK: Build them in sections so they can be moved. Build as many lineal feet as possible because you’ll fill them. Build them large enough to hold 90+ percent of your books and then build a section for the extra large books that won’t fit in the regular shelves.

Read the February 2020 L'Oeil Interview here. Read the 2012 DART interview with Paul here


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