The galleries are shut, the museums are closed. But worry not, art fans. Freed from the constraints of geography and the politics of lending, we're asking some of our favourite art experts and collectors to curate their dream exhibitions. First up, actor Russell Tovey, who hosts the podcast Talk Art with friend and gallerist Robert Diament.
To anyone who knows me, you’d be aware that I am a total art nut. Outside of acting, art has rapidly become my other intense love. I share this passion with one of my best mates, Robert Diament. In October 2018 we started playing around in the Podcast arena with a small, art-based, gossipy podcast called Talk Art. What started as something small has simply blown up into a fully-fledged art-go-to, with more than a million downloads and crossing voices from some of the best in art, film, music, fashion and literature.
It has become an important second career for us both and a project which I am deeply, deeply proud of. It continues to grow and archive some of the most essential stories in high art, pop and style culture today. Below are a selection of artists and specific art works that have impacted me from some of our most fascinating episodes. Enjoy.
"Infinite Slippage: nonRepugnant Insolvencies T!-a!-r!-r!-y!-i!-n!-g! as Hand Claps of M’s Hard’Loved’Flesh [I’M irreducibly-undone because] —Quantum Leanage-Complex-Dub" by Ima-Abasi Okon
Ima is an amazing sound and installation artist. She had a knockout show at the Chisenhale Gallery in July 2019, which features this work. The back wall consisted of 11 industrial air conditioners adapted as both a cooling system and a sound piece – the music being slowed down as it played through the speakers at various speeds and durations. It sounds nuts to describe, but the feeling inside the gallery was transformative. I stayed and took in the feeling of cold air and slow music in a trance like state for over an hour. If I had a huge space, I’d live happily with this work.
"Republic" by Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings
Currently up, but on pause at the Focal Point Gallery in Southend (big up the Essex culture) is Hannah and Rosie's first institutional show. I never got to see this show as I was away, but it consists of new video works and drawings, with the main piece being an incredible, huge fresco that the girls created especially for the show, after travelling abroad to learn the skill of fresco drawing with an Italian artisan. It is based on Andrea Mantegna’s 15th century drawing of Christ being whipped in the street, but this is a high street and it is full of women who may or may not recognise themselves as queer, but are all in a state of anger or distress. This work is, for me, a perfect example of these women’s aesthetics in the politics of urban architecture and queer spaces, and how we are defined and moved by our environments.
“Organic smuggling tunnel (chunk 1)” by Wong Ping
This Hong Kong artist is magic. He’s unlike anyone else working today; his work is kooky and sharp and very very funny. The show was spilt over two galleries, one permanent and the other a temporary space, both of which were run by the Camden Arts Centre. In both galleries there was a giant inflatable giraffe, which seems to bury its head into a heart-shaped hole in the ground in one space in north London, with the rest of the body to reappear, dismembered, in their temporary space in Cork Street, central London. I saw this giraffe. It was very cool. The energy and humour that ran through the work was supremely political, yet enthused with Wong Ping's beautifully astute satirical humour. He’s a superstar in the making. And who wouldn’t want to live with a giant, inflatable art giraffe?
"Devil's Head" by Louis Fratino
Louis is one of the most exciting young painters working today. His ability to reference art history, and being able to spin it with his very own unique proudly queer narrative, is highly original and moves the dial for what it is to show identity and tenderness in art. I recently visited his studio in Brooklyn and felt giddy with excitement around his work. He’s an artist that inspires me and excites me so much with what he will create next. I saw this sketch on a loose sheet from one of his sketch books and it instantly struck a chord with me. Maybe I saw myself in it, but it just felt so powerful and cool for such a small, quickly made pastel sketch. He’s one to follow and watch. He’s a master painter and destined for the greats.
“Prostitutes, stone the hypocrites!” by Caroline Coon
We interviewed Caroline in 2019 and it remains, to this day, one of our most special episodes. A female artist in her seventies, whose work has been shockingly overlooked for so long, and only now starting to receive the recognition it deserves. She is a national treasure and her work deals with an incredible rawness rooted in feminism, queerness and fluidity. She has been making this work for years without being seen. I cannot champion her enough. She is a genius.
"Quarry" by Phyllida Barlow
In early 2019, Robert and I were lucky enough to be taken to Edinburgh to do two really superb episodes of TalkArt around the Edinburgh Art Festival, which coincided with the comedy festival. We were talent to Jupiter Artland, a massive outdoor sculpture park in lush green grounds that is simply incredible. Inside this park, within a woodland section, is a giant installation by the British artist Phyllida Barlow (another Talk Art guest), consisting of three giant structures made of concrete and steel, with typical grey scrim-like Barlow patina – her first ever outdoor commission. This is a work of such confidence and solidity, it feels like you're entering science fiction and witnessing a structure placed here by some otherworldly long lost civilisation.
"Disco Cock" by Kembra Pfahler, Urs Fischer, Spencer Sweeney
I stumbled across this work by chance and it was a game changer. A human-sized structure of a penis and balls, covered in mirrored mosaics you’d normally see on club disco balls. Suitably named “Disco Cock”, the work highlights an artist who thinks totally outside of the box, using her own body and experiences to push the human condition to unsettling places within an art context. She is incredibly important, brave and searingly honest, as you’ll see in her live performances – she's best known for once sewing her own vagina closed as a political act.
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