Cassandra Bird

From the street, Cassandra Bird is discreet. No loud signage, no window display. The Victorian terrace discloses very little. The European tradition of galleries housed within historic apartments or palazzos is felt strongly here, setting the stage for the vision of this new venture.

The gallery is the project of art dealer and curator Cassandra Bird with her husband Fabian Jentsch, an exhibition maker, set designer and artist. As I knock on the door I wonder if it’s the right place, but swiftly Fabian greets me. The energy pulses through the almost-finished space in a continuous current. There is a feeling of potentiality, like the warm buzz before a stage show opens. Fabian tells me the multilevel layout delivers an opportunity to showcase experimental art forms, including multimedia, performance, and video.

Cassandra Bird is dedicated to the work of Australian and international contemporary artists. The gallery is launching with four artists at varying stages of their career: Atong Atem, Janet Laurence, Hayley Millar Baker, and Mel O’Callaghan. These women, comments Cassandra, are hardworking and ambitious “and in each case, it’s easy for us to place their potential with museums, curators or collectors within Australia and overseas.”

It becomes apparent, chatting to Fabian and Cassandra, that the conceptual kernel of their gallery is a coalescence of globality and locality. “For me it’s a question of how much are galleries participating in the global dialogue and acting local,” comments Fabian. “Our main cause is to think global and act local.” He and Cassandra have lived and worked in the contemporary art scenes of New York and Berlin, and during the pandemic—along with their two young children—they relocated to Fabian’s hometown in the German Alps. Here they reconnected with the art hubs of Paris, Berlin, Basel, Venice, and London. On their return, they felt an energy of moving out of the digital space —“the opportunity to physicalise, the sensibility of things moving differently.” Instead of opting for a typical warehouse space, they sought something that felt like home where they already have roots, to root deeper. 54 Kellett Street, in the heart of their home suburb of Potts Point, felt right.

Split across two small rooms, Gallery 1 is a fixed, stable artist space. Erected in front of the original anatomy—fireplaces, doors, windows—the walls are smooth and white; a wonderful collision with the gnarly nineteenth century floorboards, which creak underfoot as you move around. Your presence is felt, here. It’s not the sterile blank canvas model of many other galleries, but a consciously imperfect space that’s warm, friendly. Focused lighting adds theatricality to the otherwise dark rooms, and yet it feels as though you’ve walked into a friend’s dining room. At the time of my visit hangs a suite of photographs by Atong Atem: painterly vignettes of colonial history, migratory experience, and culture in flux, while the adjacent room showcases three immersive paintings by Paris-based Australian artist, Mel O’Callaghan.
I follow Cassandra up a narrow staircase into the bright, breezy space of Gallery 2, where photographs by Hayley Millar Baker line the wall. This gallery, she tells me, is a flexible space—an extension of Gallery 1. Long, brushed aluminum lights gifted by Gitte Weise, specially made for her gallery in Berlin two decades ago, shower the room in a natural, diffused luminescence. Cassandra explains a series of works on paper made by Janet Laurence during a recent trip to Antarctica. Laurence took shards of ancient ice—containing millions of years of microbiology—and thawed them onto paper with various blue inks, creating mesmeric melts that conjure topographies and cartographies. Around the corner is a kitchen and a bedroom where the couple plan to host artist residencies, especially for their visiting international artists.

A loft space above Gallery 2 will also be open to resident artists. Standing in this sunny loft overlooking the courtyard, Cassandra tells me about the winding, worldwide journey that led to her Potts Point gallery. A second-generation gallerist, she was immersed in the world of art from a young age. Her great aunt was the owner of the renowned Von Bertouch Galleries in Newcastle. Anne Von Bertouch had been representing some of Australia’s best artists of the time, including Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, Margaret Olley, Norman Lindsay, Ray Crooke, Donald Friend, and Charles Blackman. After her aunt’s death, Cassandra moved to New York where she worked with Venetia Kapernekas Gallery, building networks in the international scene.

Curiosity then took her to Berlin for four years, and she worked with Johnen Galerie and DUVE Berlin, then opened her own project space MOMENTUM. At European art fairs, Cassandra constantly crossed paths with Roslyn Oxley, who offered her a job back in Sydney. She worked at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery as Associate Director for ten years.

I ask Cassandra what advice she might give an emerging art dealer. “It’s not about us, it’s about them—the artists.”

This article was published in Artist Profile, issue 65 

Mel O’Callaghan: Live Echo 
3 February – 9 March 2024
Cassandra Bird, Sydney 

Latest  /  Most Viewed  /  Related