This November, Sotheby’s in London will stage Bowie/Collector, a three-part sale encompassing some 400 items from David Bowie’s private art collection. At the heart of which is a remarkable group of more than 200 works by many of the most important British artists of the 20th Century, including Frank Auerbach, Damien Hirst, Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland.
Bowie’s famously inquisitive mind also led him to collect Outsider Art, Surrealism and Contemporary African art, as well as pieces by eccentric Italian designer Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group. Bowie’s diverse tastes nurtured his extensive archive of important works from celebrated, and less widely-known, artists in a collection of uparalleled eclecticism.
From 1–10 November, the collection will be exhibited at Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries in London, giving fans, collectors, art lovers and experts a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immerse themselves in the extraordinary range of objects that informed Bowie’s private world. Ahead of the landmark ten-day event in London, preview exhibitions will be held in New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Full details are listed below.
London Highlights Preview Exhibition
20 July–9 August Exhibition times: 09:00–16:30 (weekdays only) Sotheby’s 1-2 St George Street, London, W1S 2FE Open to the public and free of charge
Highlights Preview World Tour
Los Angeles 20–21 September
New York 26–29 September
Hong Kong 12–15 October
Times of the World tour exhibitions to be announced shortly.
Bowie/Collector: 1–10 November, Sotheby’s New Bond Street, London
Part I: Modern & Contemporary Art, Evening Auction, 10 November Part II: Modern & Contemporary Art, Day Auction, 11 November Part III: Post-Modernist Design: Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group, 11 November
Auction and ticketing details will be released in the Autumn.
Here’s a small sample of the artwork that will be displayed at the Bowie/Collector exhibition:
In a 1996 issue of Modern Painters magazine, Bowie wrote of Jean-Michel Basquiat: “I feel the very moment of his brush or crayon touching the canvas. There is a burning immediacy to his ever evaporating decisions that fires the imagination ten or fifteen years on, as freshly molten as the day they were poured onto the canvas.” The Bowie-Basquiat connection is best known through the lens of Julian Schnabel’s 1996 film Basquiat, in which Bowie played the role of Andy Warhol, mentor and collaborator of the young artist. Air Power was acquired by Bowie the following year. “It comes as no surprise to learn that he [Basquiat] had a not-so-hidden ambition to be a rock musician,” wrote Bowie, “his work relates to rock in ways that very few other visual artists get near.”
Witness is one of three works by Peter Lanyon that Bowie loaned to the artist’s retrospective at Tate St Ives in 2010. Lanyon painted Witness two years after he had first taken to the skies in a glider. This new activity allowed him to see the Cornish landscape from a radically different perspective and to bring bigger, more elemental forces into his painting, becoming “like the mountaineer who cannot see the clouds without feeling the lift inside them.” This is a painting of American scale and ambition, painted in a converted sail-loft in a small fishing town on the western-most tip of England.
Harold Gilman’s painting, an essay in stillness, of the remains of the day, appears at first glance to be anything but revolutionary. But in the context of British art in the early 20th century, it is, in its own quiet and covert way, very radical. This was a new kind of subject, a suburban lodger and part-time charlady, lost in thought in a nondescript room in an ordinary London house. For art to be modern, artists like Gilman demanded that it should be concerned with the everyday life of the city, with the peripheral and unseen, with the working classes. All of this must not have been lost to Bowie, a boy born in Brixton just after the Second World War, when much of London’s housing stock was still as it was in the early part of the century – grand Georgian houses subdivided into flats and bedsitters, with tall thin sash windows, linoleum floors and a stove for heat.
Beninese artist Romauld Hazoumé is probably best known for his sculptural assemblages of commonplace found objects, such as Alexandra. Much like Marcel Duchamp and his Readymades, Hazoumé appropriates familiar objects and reconfigures them, creating a dialogue between art history and the history of colonialism in Africa, as well as contemporary African politics, especially those surrounding oil. Alexandra is indicative of Bowie’s far-reaching collecting interests, as well as his love of works with multiple layers of meaning and a sense of mischief and play. Bowie’s approach to Contemporary African art – as with all other elements of the collection – was marked by a deep intellectual rigour, exemplified by his five-page review of the inaugural Johannesburg Biennale for Modern Painters in 1995.
Bursting with a magnificently dynamic energy in its pulsating kaleidoscope of reds, greens, blues and yellows, this is a vibrant and powerful example of Damien Hirst’s trademark ‘spin’ paintings. Hirst was one of only a handful of high-profile contemporary artists for whom Bowie publically expressed his admiration. “He’s different. I think his work is extremely emotional, subjective, very tied up with his own personal fears – his fear of death is very strong – and I find his pieces moving and not at all flippant,” said Bowie in an interview with the New York Times.
Bowie loved the rich, sculptural effects of Auerbach’s paintings. In a 1998 interview in the New York Times, he said to art critic Michael Kimmelman: “I find his kind of bas-relief way of painting extraordinary. Sometimes I’m not really sure if I’m dealing with sculpture or painting.” And Bowie clearly felt a deep affinity with the artist, whose work could provoke in him a whole gamut of reactions: “It will give spiritual weight to my angst. Some mornings I’ll look at it and go, ‘Oh, God, yeah! I know!’ But that same painting, on a different day, can produce in me an incredible feeling of the triumph of trying to express myself as an artist. I can look at it and say: My God, yeah! I want to sound like that looks.” Head of Gerda Boehm, a portrait of the Auerbach’s cousin, was last exhibited in 2001 when Bowie lent it to the artist’s much-heralded retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
Breaking with the minimalist aesthetic that characterised furniture design in the 1970s, Ettore Sottsass and the Milan-based Memphis group revolutionised cutting-edge design, introducing fun, humour and strikingly bold colour combinations into functional pieces. The ‘Casablanca’ Sideboard, from the first Memphis collection in 1981, is considered a defining work of postmodern design, with examples held in numerous major museum collections around the world including the V&A in London, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museo dei Mobile e delle Sculture Lignee, Milan.
It perhaps comes as no surprise to discover that the most innovative and daring musician of his generation listened to music on such an unconventional record player. Created by brothers Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni for Brionvega, this playful stereo cabinet is a definitive piece of 1960s Italian design, with examples in the permanent collections of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York and the V&A in London.