“It Shouldn’t Be Exclusive”: Russell Tovey’s Guide to Art Collecting

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Courtesy Chris Floyd and Sotheby’s

The actor and self-confessed “art geek” is partnering with Sotheby’s next month for a special Contemporary Curated auction. Ahead of the launch, he shares five tips for aspiring collectors

Russell Tovey has always been a collector. As a child, the British actor would unnerve his parents by obsessively accumulating rocks, fossils, coins, stamps, keyrings, and comic books. “I had to have everything of everything,” he remembers today, with a laugh. “If I was interested in something, I would have to know every little detail. I was always very eccentric from a very young age.”

Tovey – who is known for his roles in Pride, The History Boys and Being Human, among others – has focused and refined his hoarding habits over the years. These days, it’s art that takes centre stage in his life, with the actor building a steady personal collection of paintings and photography over the last two decades. It’s a passion that inspired Talk Art: a wildly successful podcast that sees Tovey, along with co-host Robert Diament, interview both leading and emerging artists, as well as curators and industry insiders. (A spin-off book, Talk Art: Everything You Wanted To Know About Contemporary Art But Were Afraid To Ask, is due for release this year.)

Despite admitting that he once felt like an art world “imposter”, Tovey is now growing comfortable with his expertise. As well as being on this year’s Turner Prize panel, he is also teaming up with Sotheby’s next month for its “Contemporary Curated” auction, handpicking his own personal selection of artists for the sale. His aim is to make the industry more open and accessible, so he’s putting established names, like Wolfgang Tillmans and Tracey Emin, next to emerging talent. “There's something really exciting about going to auction houses, because everything is hung up, without any hierarchy,” Tovey tells AnOther. “Everything’s on par, and I really love that.”

Ahead of the Contemporary Curated launch on April 6, Tovey shares some advice – and shatters some industry myths – for any would-be art collectors.

1. Hone your focus and narrow your selection pool

“You need to hone what art you collect, because the art world is so sprawling. It’s like the universe – if you don’t choose your galaxy, then you’re just on hyperdrive. You end up floating around everywhere.

“What I do now is collect emerging artists. I find it exciting because I’m at a stage where I can use my platform [and the Talk Art podcast] to support them. By encouraging emerging artists, you can help pay their studio fees, their lunch, their rent, and that is so important. [It’s also] so exciting when these emerging artists become more established and start having institutional interest, a really good collector base and curators that put them in shows. There is nothing more rewarding and satisfying to know that you were one of the many cogs assisting their trajectory into the art world.”

2. Have faith in your own taste

“Your art collection is a self-portrait of you. People end up knowing your collection and what other artists you’re going to like, based on the work you already have. If it’s an authentic collection that’s come from enthusiasm, passion and a genuine interest in the artists rather than for money – which is also fine, if people want to do that – then it’s a self-portrait.”

3. Remember that money isn’t everything

“You might not have the budget to buy a painting, but you can collect a postcard, frame it and have that on your wall. Just being around art or images that inspire you can change your day, and make a difference. You can also sometimes get artist editions for really low prices.”

4. Sign up and support as many art galleries as possible

“You should support and visit as many art galleries and institutions as possible. You can be a benefactor and a patron now for not much money, or you could support their gift shop. You should really get involved with these institutions: go and see the shows, see as much art as possible. On Instagram, you should follow artists and galleries, and sign up to all of their mailouts. If you become a member of the Tate [you should] cherish that membership card, because that’s something magical. That little bit of plastic gives you access to so much.”

5. Don’t doubt yourself

“The art world has been designed to feel exclusive, but it isn’t. I’m discovering more and more that everybody who is in it [experiences] imposter syndrome. But with knowledge comes confidence: I’m self-taught when it comes to art history, and the more I know, the more confident I feel. Also, with age, you feel like you’re allowed to admit when you don’t know something. When you’re younger you think you should know everything. That’s why we started the Talk Art podcast, because I was getting fed up with hearing reverential art interviews filled with [obscure] terminology and references. I felt completely shut out. Talk Art is for everyone, and about making art non-academic and non-elitist. It shouldn’t be exclusive.”

Russell Tovey’s Contemporary Curated collection is viewable now on the Sotheby’s website, and will open for bidding 6-13 April. His new book, Talk Art: Everything You Wanted To Know About Contemporary Art But Were Afraid To Ask is published in May.