January 7, 2022
John Oliver has a thing for weird art. Over the past year, the comedian/news commentator and host of “Last Week Tonight” has acquired what he describes as a “small but high-quality collection of modern masterpieces,” reports SFGate.
Among them: A portrait of fellow talk show host Wendy Williams poised to take a bite of a lamb chop. A bizarre still life of several striped ties wrapped up on top of a briefcase, courtesy of Judy Kudlow, the wife of Fox Business Network host and former economic adviser to former President Donald Trump, Larry Kudlow. And “Stay Up Late,” created by Pennsylvania artist Brian Swords, which portrays two rodents embraced in a compromising position that Oliver has proudly lauded as “high-quality rat erotica.”
It’s all on garish display in “The Last Week Tonight Masterpiece Gallery,” a monthlong exhibition that has toured four other museums across the country and will make its final stop in San Francisco at the Cartoon Art Museum on Beach Street.
Selected by Oliver’s team from thousands of galleries and museums that had applied, the Cartoon Art Museum was the only venue on the West Coast to receive the honor of showcasing the eccentric assortment of art.
“Just like Linus trying to get the Great Pumpkin to visit his pumpkin patch, I like to think I won them over with sincerity,” said curator Andrew Farago.
Oliver announced the open application process on his show in late October—encouraging museums to apply for the opportunity to receive $10,000 to facilitate the collection in addition to a matched donation to their nonprofit organization of choice.
It almost didn’t happen, according to Farago, who explained he’s a big fan of the late night show, but somehow missed Oliver’s announcement that he wanted to share his art collection with the masses. It was a friend of Farago’s who sent him a note and suggested that he apply.
With nothing to lose, Farago decided to go for it.
“I wrote a brief email to ‘Last Week Tonight,’ talking up the Cartoon Art Museum and its history, letting them know how the pandemic had impacted us—and I told them that we’d be the perfect venue for John’s collection,” said Farago.
A few months later, Farago received a call from Nicole Franza, a producer on the show. The Cartoon Art Museum was in the running, she said.
After some back-and-forth regarding logistics and scheduling, Farago learned they had made the cut.
“I don’t remember what we did to celebrate,” he said. “Probably a high-five, then back to work on whatever grants and exhibitions were coming up next. That’s life in the nonprofit sector.”
The Cartoon Art Museum has been around since 1984 and is one of the only galleries of its kind in the United States. But is this collection truly among the weirdest art it has displayed over the years?
“Maybe,” said Farago. “Our focus has always been on cartooning and illustration, so it’s rare that we venture into subjects like Wendy Williams eating a lamb chop. That’s more the kind of thing that you’d expect to find in fine arts museums and galleries than our institution, but all bets are off during the pandemic.”
He said the museum chose the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank as the recipient of the matched donation, adding that he was “thrilled” by the producers’ efforts to reach out during a challenging time and foster a “really special event.”
But he’s also pleased by another small accolade stemming from the exhibition.
“I’m just glad that the Last Week Tonight Masterpiece Gallery is now the first thing that comes up when you Google my name and ‘rat erotica,’” said Farago.
Research contact: @SFGate