Bowie’s bounty: Sotheby’s presents ’Bowie/Collector’ exhibition and auction

Portrait picture of David Bowie
’Bowie/Collector’ is a an exhibition-cum-auction of the late, great Starman’s extensive art and design haul, organised by Sotheby’s. Pictured left: Beautiful, Shattering, Slashing, Violent, Pinky, Hacking, Sphincter Painting, by Damien Hirst, 1995. Right: portrait, by Gavin Evans.
(Image credit: Antonio Camera)

What a thrill to stand in front of David Bowie’s record player and imagine him pulling favourite albums by atonal noisemaker Glenn Branca or pioneering Dutch geeks The Electrosoniks from a shelf in his New York home and blasting them out to Iman or Brian Eno, at neighbour-bothering volumes.

Bowie’s 1960s Brionvega music centre, designed by the Castiglioni brothers, isn’t in mint condition – it’s slightly foxed around the edges of the detachable speakers, and Manhattan sunshine has discoloured the unit’s white melamine surfaces to a buttery yellow tone – but the unconventional, jolie laide piece of industrial design, exhibited in the George Street foyer of Sotheby’s ’Bowie/Collector’ sale preview in London, is indicative of the man and his eye, his intelligently informed thing, for art. Someone who collected for love, for beauty, inspiration, contemplation, entertainment and amusement, rather than just for money.   

Bowie’s fascination with not just art, but also with artists, the art world, art journalism, auction houses and the creative process of design, is well documented. Away from music he was a regular at salerooms, art fairs and ateliers. He befriended advisors and gallerists, enlisted the services of specialist dealers, wrote for art magazines, referenced art in interviews and in song lyrics – ’Joe The Lion’ from Bowie’s landmark Heroes album (’Nail me to my car and I’ll tell you who you are’) being a paean to self-harming performance artist Chris Burden.

Books and photos about David Bowie

The ’Bowie/Collector’ catalogue.

(Image credit: Jessica Klingelfuss)

In keeping with Bowie’s eclectic but considered preferences, the modest Sotheby’s preview offers insight into a much larger collection that acknowledges established artists – Henry Moore, Jean Michel Basquiat (Bowie purchased Air Power in 1995 for £78,500 – it’s now valued at £2.5million), Damien Hirst and Frank Auerbach are all represented here – and delights in championing the work of lesser known talent also.

So, next to the Basquiat is a is a magnificently phallic William Turnbull, an energetic, monochrome abstract by St Ives painter Peter Lanyon and a pair of naive 'outsider art' drawings by residents at Gugging, a psychiatric ward near Vienna, Austria. Bowie and Eno visited the hospital in early 1994, interviewed and photographed its patients, and bought some of their work. Their outsider art experience would become the inspiration for Bowie’s 1995 industrial rock album Outside.

An ice-cream array of furniture, lighting and ceramics is the centrepiece for the main room at the Sotheby’s show. Bowie collected Memphis – the eccentric, Marmite-ish 1980s movement founded by Ettore Sottsass. The style isn't to everyone’s taste – think of it as the Let’s Dance to the Patrick Caulfield canvas’ Station To Station – but viewed within the context of the Hirst spin painting and the dumpster sculpture pieces by Beninese artist Romauld Hazoumé, you can see how the group’s bonkers Milanese take on tribal, pop kitsch appealed. 

But it is the dessert-thick, whipped oils of Auerbach’s Head of Gerda Boehm that leaves the most lasting impression. A profoundly affecting portrait of the London-born artist’s cousin, the painting proved particularly inspirational for the songwriter. 'I can look at it and say: My God, yeah!' Bowie once said of it. 'I want to sound like that looks.'

David Bowie's music centre

Bowie’s 1960s Brionvega music centre, designed by the Castiglioni brothers, isn’t in mint condition but the unconventional, jolie laide piece of industrial design is indicative of the man and his eye for design. Pictured: Brionvega Radiofonografo RR226, by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni, 1965. 

(Image credit: Sotheby’s )

Look behind the scenes of the unpacking of ’Bowie/Collector’ above

Painting of David Bowie

In keeping with Bowie’s eclectic but considered preferences, the modest Sotheby’s preview offers insight into a much larger collection that acknowledges established artists. Frank Auerbach’s Head of Gerda Boehm, 1965 (pictured), leaves the most lasting impression; a profoundly affecting portrait of the London-born artist’s cousin, the painting proved particularly inspirational for the songwriter

(Image credit: Antonio Camera)

Painting - Interior (Mrs Mounter), by Harold Gilman, 1917

Away from music, Bowie was a regular at salerooms, art fairs and ateliers. He befriended advisors and gallerists, enlisted the services of specialist dealers, wrote for art magazines, referenced art in interviews and in song lyrics. Pictured: Interior (Mrs Mounter), by Harold Gilman, 1917

(Image credit: Antonio Camera)

Paintings purchased by David Bowie

Pictured left: Bowie purchased Air Power, by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1984, in 1995 for £78,500 – it’s now valued at £2.5million. Right: Witness, an energetic, monochrome abstract by St Ives painter Peter Lanyon, produced in 1961.

(Image credit: Sotheby’s)

a pair of naive ’outsider art’ drawings by Johann Fischer

As well as established artists, Bowie enjoyed championing the work of lesser known talents. Pictured: a pair of naive ’outsider art’ drawings by Johann Fischer, a residents at Gugging, a psychiatric ward near Vienna, Austria. Bowie and Eno visited the hospital in early 1994, interviewed and photographed its patients; an experience which went on to inspire the 1995 industrial rock album Outside.

(Image credit: Sotheby’s )

The South African sculptures

The South African sculptures of Romuald Hazoumè (pictured) use the sculptural assemblage of commonplace objects – related to sound in this case – to give them a new meaning and purpose. 

(Image credit: Antonio Camera)

Two collectable art pieces, floor lamp and sideboard

Bowie collected Memphis and while the style isn’t to everyone’s taste – think of it as the Let’s Dance to the Station To Station of a nearby Caulfield canvas – it’s easy to see why it might have appealed when viewed within the context of neighbouring pieces by Hirst or Beninese artist Romauld Hazoumé. Pictured left: ‘Treetops’ floorlamp, by Ettore Sottsass, 1981. Right: ‘Casablanca’ sideboard, by Ettore Sottsass, 1981.

(Image credit: Sotheby’s)

Big Sur sofa

The Memphis representation is continued in the ’Big Sur’ sofa, designed by Peter Shire in 1986 (pictured at front).

(Image credit: Sotheby’s)

Lamp by Martine Bedin and vases by Ettore Sottsass

Pictured left: ‘Ashoka’ lamp, by Martine Bedin, 1981. Right: ‘Tigris’, ‘Nilo’ and ‘Euphrates’ vases, by Ettore Sottsass, 1985.

(Image credit: Sotheby’s )

Art pieces of table and Vase

Pictured left: ‘Ivory’ table, by Ettore Sottsass, 1985. Right: ‘Alzata’ vase, by Ettore Sottsass, 1958.

(Image credit: Sotheby’s )

Super lamp

‘Super’ lamp, by Martine Bedin, 1981. 

(Image credit: Sotheby’s )

The 'Bowie/Collector' exhibition and auction will be staged at Sotheby's New Bond Street in November, preceeded by a preview world tour. For more information, visit the Sotheby's website
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Preview World Tour:
London: 20 July – 9 August
Los Angeles: 20–21 September
New York: 26–29 September
Hong Kong: 12–15 October

The Exhibition:
'Bowie/Collector': 1–10 November, Sotheby’s New Bond Street, London

The Auctions:
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