It's the start of fall here in Berlin and it's beginning to rain; a foggy grey organza misting on my black trench coat as I arrive too early to Under The Mango Tree (UTMT) gallery in Schöneberg. To escape the autumn drizzle I leapt over the crucial part of interview prep where I collect both myself and the questions, but UTMT owner / gallerist / designer Mini Kapur is warm to my situation, making me a hot cup of chai tea and leaving me to write at a small marble table in the main space before our session begins. The space starts to take on a radiant tranquility and I notice a painting in the center of the gallery that is truly beautiful (Alper Emeklier's Frau mit Artischocke)—and I don't say that about almost anything these days, but here it is, in the art wilds of Berlin, a beautiful painting in a harmonious space. I had to ask Mini about this.
The Shadows That Follow Us
Mini Kapur: This painting was finished the evening before the exhibition started; I had not seen it before Alper came to hang it. It was a risk for me to leave this space open for a painting that was unseen, but sometimes we just have to trust in things – I did and it turned out wonderful.
APs: You also said that people have come off the street to visit this painting?
MK: Recently, two women were visiting from Paris and one of them came to me in such a panic. She asked, 'Are you open late tomorrow? Because I have bring my friend to show her this picture!' So then they came and they sat in front of it! And it was such a wonderful experience for me to see this. Lots of women have come to visit this painting for some reason. I love to watch people enter the gallery, to watch what draws them in. At night, I always leave one light on for the people outside to enjoy what's inside. At the end of the day I have hoped to make some happiness there – I enjoy it!
APs: I really like this idea of offering happiness to people. I noticed that you host events here as well as exhibitions, and all of these events are very diverse and offer direct engagement with our senses. As a gallerist, do you feel a responsibility to engage people in this way?
MK: I'm not a gallerist by birth so I had to learn, and the way I learn is by doing. I read about Joseph Beuys with his dead rabbit, and I wondered: how do you get people to become interested? So I decided to design some events to welcome people into the gallery. These small gatherings brought in the energies of musicians, readers; all of them artists in some form. Events invite people to come into the space and engage with the artwork; they don't have to be intimidated to enter the gallery.
APs: Can you talk to me more about the interconnection of aesthetics?
MK: I think art is very subjective. People are usually more inclined towards one form of art or another, but we are all connected somehow. I feel that if I can touch a person with music, he can talk about music to someone who can be touched by art. My intention is, as I said before, to break down barriers and create a small community of people who won't be afraid to enter a gallery. I feel that people are fascinated by art but they sometimes feel intimidated. The collectors I work with are not all in the high range. We have to create a new demographic of collectors who are engaged and unafraid. My food events break down these barriers, and my music concerts do the same. We have between forty andfifty people that regularly attend our concerts – can you imagine the feeling of happiness? For me it's a question of how to bring people together with simple ways of doing beautiful things.
APs: Talk to me about some of the reasons that you get involved in the gallery scene in Berlin? Was there a lack or a niche that you wanted to fill?
MK: I come from an art background. I studied at the Delhi School of Art in India, and was on track to becoming an artist – but I like to earn money. I didn't want to have a bread-less life so I became a designer, which has offered me most anything I could want in a profession. About five years ago I was looking for a space to have my design studio, and I entered this room that we are standing in; no light had touched it in twenty-five years and it was filled with rubbish, but still so beautiful, and I thought, 'Let me give [running an art gallery] a try.' For me, when I start something, I want to go through it completely. When you do that, then you know what you've learned and what you've gained, and at what cost. We are in a tough land for galleries, but it is at the same time very enriching. Berlin brings together artists from all over the world, and we all think differently. But what are our common threads? We are all here and can learn from each other as people and artists.
APs: You also learn what unites us all too; a universal language of beauty. I noticed in the photos on your website and in your current exhibitions that the shadows of the objects feature prominently. Why this engagement, this featuring of the shadows?
MK: That's a very interesting question. I never thought so much about it but the shadow is an important part because it never leaves you, wherever you are. I once thought about returning to India, and a friend remarked to me: You may leave your country but your shadow always follows you; so work on the shadow here where you are and the world outside shall change. And I believe anything that is real, living, existing has a shadow which needs to be accepted. Only then the change shall take place. If you don't solve your situations where you are, you can never find solutions. So, we always have shadows, and we must work with them so that they become beautiful parts of things. We had one sculpture from Ulrike Dossmann here which was a hanging fragment of a face, and we lit it just so that the shadow completed the face to make it whole.
APs: Interesting. When I first came into the gallery, I felt a sort of unique harmony, a good energy in the space. Do you feel that same energy I'm talking about?
MK: I did a lot of Indian puja in here, you know? Whenever I start anything new I always do a kind of small ceremony. I started here in the main room. Even before I renovated this space, I still knew its beauty. It may sound funny but this is a room which is very happy to have people and art in it. It's definitely something very special for me; I like coming here every morning.
APs: What do you envision for the future with UTMT?
MK: Only that people like to come here, happily, and not with the idea of consuming art, but being a part of it. Also I would like to see a trend of investment, as all the artists I work with invest themselves: people investing their energy and wishes, and this investment, in turn, bringing in energy for the artists to go further. I think instead of investing ourselves in the troubling worries of the world today, we should invest our energies in art. For me, art is much more welcoming, more opening, than just, you know, many other things.
At this point in our exchange, the artists featured in Mini's exhibition arrive. Brothers Özgür and Alper Emeklier, a sculptor and painter respectively, are relatively composed and, at first, of few words. Our photographer begins to snap shots of Mini and the various artworks while I take a walk around. Alper greets me in front of one of his works: “I feel like this one isn't finished.” It reminds me of Basquiat in the early 80s, a period of pastel overdrive, and looks amazing. I ask him to tell me about Frau mit Artischocke, the work people make visitations to from the street. “I made a painting and I didn't like it, I didn't touch the canvas for two and a half years. But the night before the exhibition, I felt it was time, and look what happened.” Alper pulls out an iPad in a red leather case and shows me photos of the painting's metamorphosis, from something relatively clunky to a work of remarkable elegance. It was an enjoyable moment, and I then realized how this small gallery in Schöneberg is making a big difference, not just by showing great artworks, but by bringing great people together.
Article by Drury Brennan