Nestled inside a beautiful Belgravia mews you'll find CASSIUS&Co., a unique exhibition space set up by rare book enthusiast Fraser Brough.
Presenting an eclectic collection of contemporary art and rare books of the 20th and 21st centuries, Brough has made room for a place where art and books collide.
From paintings by Dorothea Stiegemann and Kaoli Mashio, to works on paper by Balthus and Gabriel Orozco, Brough's exhibition programme encourages visitors to look at art alongside a book-filled aesthetic.
Ahead of the London gallery's latest exhibition, Readers (1 December 2022–23 February 2023) which will feature new portraits by Raphael Egil, Brough sits down with Ocula Advisor, Rory Mitchell, to discuss CASSIUS&Co., his passion for books and his desire for galleries to be more like bookshops.
What led you to the art world and encouraged you to set up a gallery?
It became clear that I was unlikely to play for Arsenal.
I wanted to collect, and I thought that having a gallery would abet that. I was wrong, and ought to have gone into finance.
Could you tell me a little about your passion for rare books and how this informs the gallery?
I had never sold a book in my life before I opened CASSIUS&Co., but it's wonderful, more enjoyable than the art world. The collectors are extremely knowledgeable and often introverted, which makes them difficult to find and market to, but that's ok because they will go to great lengths to find you. They are never buying with a speculative interest, nor do they need it to match their sofa; they simply want the book. I wish that galleries were more like bookshops.
I had worried that some artists would not want to work with me because the books are a visual distraction and the gallery could never be a perfect white space. But, I have actually found that a lot of artists like the books and see it as a chance to make a type of exhibition that they couldn't do anywhere else.
And anyway, there are endless white galleries. While they are in some ways ideal, they can also be alienating and are often totally wrong for the works—I am thinking for example of the early 20th century galleries at Tate Modern, which are just awful.
You are working closely with several artists who have been taught by Peter Doig. How did you come across these painters and what drew you to them?
I was looking for them. I wish I had seen sooner what was happening in Dusseldorf. The work coming out of the Kunstakademie is so diverse but shares an attitude—one which takes the actual making of objects seriously without being conservative or regressive, and which seems to me to want to master form so that it can express something subjective—which makes for endlessly interesting works of art, works that have to do with the individual's brain and what moves it.
For years, I was only interested in the kind of art that dematerialised the object. Eventually, I had to admit that what I actually loved and fundamentally cared about in art was form. Without form, art is just philosophy or worse, social critique. Artists interested in form were always going to be an important part of the gallery.
I wanted my exhibitions to connect to each other, like chapters in a book or scenes in a movie. Not necessarily in a sequential way, but when taken as a whole could be seen as something larger, something cohesive.
I will curate around 20 exhibitions at CASSIUS&Co., and I hope they eventually mean something as a group as well as each on their own. The art world and the world at large are such a big amorphous mess. A gallery ought to be specific, to cut the flak and make something singular and subjective out of it all.
So, in the end I am working with several artists that all graduated from the same class within a couple of years of each other, and each is as interesting as the last.
You are tucked away in a beautiful little Belgravia mews and yet a lot of the work you are showing really requires being seen in the flesh as opposed to digitally on social media. Are you conscious of this?
Social media is an even worse place than an art fair to look at works of art. Needs must and all that of course, but it's not the true thing unless you see it with your body as well as your eyes. Not just for scale and texture, but for pace, so that you are moving at the speed of a human instead of a machine.
Sometimes I regret being out of the way because it would be nice to be close to the few galleries I admire. But then I think, maybe it's good that people have had to walk to find CASSIUS&Co. Plus, I have a pub either side of me and a back-in-five-minutes sign.
Tell me about your current exhibition?
Raphael Egil's Readers, is a series of portraits of people reading, reading us, or which have been painted by reading, and includes paintings of Marcel Proust, Doris Lessing and Rembrandt.
Egil has done something quite incredible, which is to find a new formal language for the portrait—such an old and nowadays uncomfortable genre—and to expand the usual spiral of looking that takes place between artist, sitter and viewer. Egil gives his subjects the chance to look, or even be, elsewhere, and ultimately uses all of them to read himself.
I'm particularly happy because as a bookshop, CASSIUS&Co. is a great place to exhibit the show. The paintings will be presented alongside a bookshelf exhibition that charts one line through poetry from the last 150 years, from Walt Whitman to Derek Walcott.
What are your plans for next year?
In March, the gallery will present an exhibition of works by Oliver Bak which is very exciting. Bak had an interest in a French poet of the early 20th century, a decadent photo-Surrealist poète maudit called Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, who died young and isn't very well known outside of France.
We are making a beautiful book introducing Roger Gilbert-Lecomte's work to an English-speaking audience that Bak will make drawings for, which in turn will also form a part of the exhibition. It's certainly a show that CASSIUS&Co. is the right space for.
How do you feel about London at the moment?
I prefer Paris, like everyone, but here we are.—[O]
Main image: Exhibition view: Studies and Exercises, CASSIUS&Co., London (15 June–27 August 2022). Courtesy CASSIUS&Co.