Interview with Simon Tovey, Specialist in 20th Century & Contemporary Art at Phillips
July 2, 2018
Which projects or events are you most excited for at this year’s Art Night programme?
I am super excited about Jeremy Deller’s musical performance, This Place. I greatly enjoyed listening to him in conversation with Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery Director, in April at Phillips as part of the Art Night Talks programme. I am also looking forward to seeing Charlotte Colbert’s film projection, Wandsworth Road. I loved her recent work, Benefit Supervisor Sleeping (2017) which pays homage to Lucian Freud’s masterpiece and the wonderful Sue Tilley, who Phillips was lucky enough to host as part of a collaborative event a few years ago.
What is your favourite unusual space in London, and why?
I recently went for a walk around Highgate cemetery, resting place to both many known and unknown names. There is an astonishing beauty in the varied funerary architecture surrounded by magnificent trees and wildlife. Nestled within this extraordinary corner of London are thousands of stories of love and loss, which gives pause to boundless reflection.
What is your favourite piece of art that isn’t in a gallery?
There is a beautiful Barbara Hepworth sculpture, Single Form (1964) which stands by the lake in Battersea Park, very close to my home in London. Every time we walk past it, I stop to look at it. Invariably, it has people surrounding it, resting up against it or running the hands across its bronze surface. Like all of her work, it is at once both organic and yet man-made – like it’s always been there, but somehow is also meticulously crafted. I love the way in which people interact with it. For me, it takes me to St Ives, in Cornwall, once home of the great artist herself, and a place where I spend a great deal of time and which means a huge amount to my family.
Our 2018 curatorial themes, outlined by Hayward Gallery, are home and the urban landscape – what do you feel is your concept of home?
I suppose home might mean different things to different people – to some this could be physical bricks, mortar and the objects they surround themselves with. To others it might be their family and loved ones who form a structure around their lives. For me personally, it’s the landscape of familiarity filled with those people. London in its vibrancy, the west country with its rolling countryside; Cornwall and west Wales for sea air, dramatic coastlines and crashing waves! All of these concepts are united by the feeling of tranquility and security which they lend to those who identify with them.
You’ve just concluded your Summer London Day and Evening Sales at Phillips. Do you feel like there are any particular thematic links between the London sales and the Art Night 2018 themes?
The themes for Art Night’s 2018 programme give rise to ideas of identity, culture and our personal journeys within these landscapes. The art created in celebration of these interactions, is a vicarious experience which guides people through these passages. I love the way in which art can do that. Working at an auction house, we look at art on a constant basis – however, nothing is better than watching people react to the works hanging on display during a sale week. This is surpassed only by the moment that someone recognises their connection with an object which they cannot live without!
Art Night and Phillips both follow the same ethos of making art accessible through staging public events and exhibitions – as a free festival Art Night specifically works to make artworks more accessible through the use of outdoor and publicly-available space. In what ways do Phillips, as a contemporary-leaning auction house, find ways to democratise contemporary art and find new audiences?
Part of Phillips’ ongoing strategy is to constantly ask ourselves the question ‘What does it mean to be a 21st century auction house?’. This is a good litmus test of any undertaking and helps us to think about those audiences we want to reach as much as those who already know about Phillips. Our auctions span a wide breadth from New Now, which champions the new and interesting at a lower price point, to our Evening Sales, like those of last week, which present the most coveted works to market. The term auction house is very fitting; we want to be a hub or a haven for those who are interested in art, in all forms, and we want to keep our doors open and accessible to anyone interested. This is why we have events and exhibitions as well as auctions, to provide this interaction to our followers. We love the ongoing education which comes from interaction and conversations through art.