‘Oh My God. That’s So True’: Talk Art’s Enthusiasms and Contradictions

Russell Tovey and Robert Diament’s conversations reveal the messy quest to establish what contemporary art is all about

Courtesy Acast

Actor Russell Tovey and gallerist Rob Diament set up their Talk Art podcast in 2018. Thus far it spans more than 200 episodes and 5 million downloads. This book (their second, following 2021’s Talk Art: Everything you wanted to know about contemporary art but were afraid to ask) collects conversations with 24 artworld and artworld-related figures, and aims, as the authors put it, to be a ‘fun, relatable’, ‘geek out’ rebellion against bosses (the type who run the art media) and elitism that allows us (and them) ‘to hear the voices behind some of the greatest artworks being made on the planet right now’. You’ll have to make up your own mind about that last bit, but here you get to hear from everyone from Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry, to Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran and Tyler Mitchell, to Elton John (‘he represents the very best of qualities found in any genuine art nerd’), Stephen Fry and Paul Smith to help you along the way. Although, in that, Tovey and Diament’s boundless enthusiasm plays an equal role.

Of course, like art in general, the collection is not without its contradictions. The opening interview with New York-based critic Jerry Saltz (who wrote the introduction to their last book and a numbered list of 63 rules on ‘how to be an artist’) comes across as an establishment endorsement of their passions and methods (art has always been a part of life, from cave paintings onwards, everyone is an artist, etc). Stephen Fry’s interview descends into an unredacted form of hero worship (in response to his pronouncements, the pair offer one ‘Oh my God. That’s so true’, three wows, one ‘This is the best moment of our podcast ever, Stephen’ and, in response to Stephen’s ‘I thought that was fascinating’, one ‘that’s fascinating’).

Where the collection really takes off is the interviews with younger artists, which are sensitive, unpatronising, genuinely questioning and fundamentally challenging. Among them are Tyler Mitchell’s analysis of the embedded hierarchies in photography and Michaela Yearwood-Dan on how the systems and conditioned behaviours required by the artworld are sometimes designed to make ‘you feel you can’t be authentically yourself within the work you make’. Indeed, this collection’s strength ultimately lies in the fact that it reveals nothing more than a battlefield in its quest to establish what contemporary art is all about. Which, as Pat Benatar once said, is also the case with love.

Talk Art: The Interviews by Russell Tovey and Robert Diament. Ilex Press, £25 (softcover)

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