It’s likely that if you have your finger on the pulse of the UK contemporary art scene, you know of Cassandra Bowes. 5 years out of her Art History BA from UCL, Bowes has been taking the art world by storm as a gallerist, curator, and brains behind successful Instagram account @the_arts_editor.
The_arts_editor is full of upcoming artist recommendations and exhibition snap-shots. It’s an Art Girl dream.
The art world is an impenetrable place, and I wanted to shatter this perception and encourage more people to go to exhibitions and see art.
Bowes is forging a formidable path for herself in the fine art world. I’m glad we nabbed this interview with her while she still has a moment to spare which I’m sure, within the next couple of years, won’t be the case.
I was thrilled to talk to Cassandra about making art more accessible for those not in the industry; her recent lockdown exhibition ‘Anti-Frieze’ which led to the creation of new viewing platform ‘The Viewing Room’ (@theviewingroom_presents); and the long-term positive effects lockdown may have on the art world.
Q: Introduce yourself – who are you, what do you do?
A: First of all – thanks for having me on Art Plugged! I’m Cassandra and I run the Instagram @the_arts_editor where I document all of the best exhibitions and share my experiences on the London art scene.
I’ve been working in the commercial art world for over 5 years since graduating with a BA in Art History from UCL. I started out at the Pollock Krasner Foundation in New York where I handled the estate and assisted with artist grants (and I recommend any artists out there to visit their website to apply for grants, especially in the current climate!). I then got my start in the gallery world as Manager at Thomas Gibson Fine Art in London, and more recently, Robilant + Voena – which I joined mere weeks before the lockdown!
Q: How did @the_arts_editor come to be, what do you mostly use your social media platform for?
A: I initially started the platform a couple of years ago when I was going through a breakup. I started filling all my spare time with visiting galleries, and I wanted to share all the amazing exhibitions I was visiting. But I always had this idea in the back of my head that I wanted to make the art scene more accessible for those who didn’t work in the industry.
There seemed to be (and still is) this shared perspective that the art world is an impenetrable place, and I wanted to shatter this perception and encourage more people to go to exhibitions and see art. There’s a lot of incredible things out there to see, if you know where to look!
Q: Could you introduce us to the Viewing Room?
A: During lockdown, I launched my first online exhibition which was titled Anti-Freeze, in order to provide a platform to emerging artists during this time. With real life exhibitions being cancelled, Anti-Freeze seemed like the perfect way to help get all this amazing art out there. It was such a success that I have now launched The Viewing Room which is a platform which hosts online exhibitions monthly, and pushes the boundaries of what an online exhibition can be. This month is a moving image exhibition which features some of the most incredible emerging video artists. Next month will be an exhibition of African photography. Each exhibition will be wholly unique so that both myself and the viewers can learn about new things.
The platform has a specific focus on three core values: inclusivity, diversity and accessibility. These core values will drive the artwork we show and how we show it,
Q: Which artists are you loving at the moment?
A: How many can I name?? I’m loving the artists in my current exhibition Are You Still Watching? which is a reference to our consumption of media, and features 6 incredible artists who push the boundaries of the digital medium: Cat and Eimear McClay, Ella Yolande, Faye Moorhouse, Kiera Saunders, Lana Hughes and Sian Fan. You can view the exhibition on www.viewingroom.co.uk
I’m also collecting a lot of Kristy Chan, James Owens, and Sophie Vallance Cantor. My collection includes a lot of figurative painting, always with a touch of the surreal.
Q: What is your favourite piece in your own collection?
A: I can’t choose just one, that’s like picking a favourite child! Can I name a few?
You might have seen my giant Hannah Wilson painting on my IG. I have quite a few of her works, but my favourite is a giant reclining lady that hangs in my dining room. My favourite thing about Hannah’s works is she paints nude women but in a way that totally circumvents the male gaze. She paints these imaginary women from her perspective as a lesbian woman, and you totally pick up on the mix of desire and familiarity in the women she paints.
Another favourite is my Sophie Vallance Cantor painting of her husband, Douglas, smoking. I bought this at the beginning of lockdown from a picture on a computer screen, and when it turned up in real life it was better than I could have imagined.
And also I have to mention my silicone piece from Manon Steyaert who you interviewed recently! I commissioned this one from her in red and pink- one of my favourite colour combos. When it arrived, I was struck by how delicate they are in real life. I’ve hung her behind my sofa next to my Alexa Coe, and the sunlight reflects off it beautifully, changing the colours throughout the day.
All three of these works were bought online during lockdown, and it showed me that not only is buying art online possible, but could definitely become the norm for me.
Q: How do you think COVID/lockdown will have affected the art world? How might we see it change?
A: I actually think we’re going to see positive long-term effects. The pandemic has forced a lot of the art world online, and this flourishing digital landscape has allowed a greater accessibility for both collectors and artists by increasing transparency and removing boundaries such as income, class, gender, race. It’s resulted in an evening-out of the playing field and more of an open-door policy, which is what I’ve been trying to encourage from the very beginning of my career.
Q: What advice do you have for people wanting to enter curation?
A: It’s not advice as such, but it’s worth mentioning that I’m looking for guest curators for The Viewing Room! In an effort to keep things fresh, and mix up the perspectives, I’m keen to feature guest curators often. I love big ideas, and doing things differently, so if that describes you then get in touch with your CV.
Q: What are you angry about right now?
A: It’s hard not to still be angry over recent racial injustices such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, and Tony McDade- and the countless others who have suffered and live in fear due to intolerable racism, violence and injustice. I feel the anger has reached a peak and I am hopeful for change. I encourage everyone to keep the momentum going- keep signing petitions, donating, and educating yourselves.
I also encourage everyone to #diversifyyourfeed. If everyone on your Instagram looks and talks and acts like you, chances are you’re not learning. Instagram has a tendency to keep you stuck in a feedback loop engaging with the same kind of people, so break out of it and start following and supporting Black and POC artists. I myself am making a conscious effort to do this, and will continue to do this.