David Bowie’s private art collection gets set for US$12 million sale
Sale set to kick off next week following previews in the US and Hong Kong
The “man who sold the world” is soon to have his private art and design estate put on the block by Sotheby’s in London as the auction house brings together for sale more than 350 pieces that belonged to David Bowie until his sudden passing earlier this year.
The full collection is on display in London ahead of the three-day sale which kicks off on November 10 and is seen raising over £10 million (US$12 million). This follows recent previews in New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong.
Given Bowie was known for his eccentric musical genius and a daring proclivity towards bold make-up, costumes and performances, the muted tone of some of his works may come as a surprise to those expecting to see an uninterrupted rash of bright metallic colours and jarring geometric designs.
While the collection does feature its fair share of larger-than-life and vibrant pieces, there are also less visually dramatic works such as Harold Gilman’s 1917 painting of a cleaning lady turned away from the viewer and occupied with menial tasks.
Beth Greenacre, curator of the David Bowie collection from 2000 to the present day and who worked very closely alongside the musician during that period, says despite the fact some people may see an apparent variation in style and appearance between works, there is much continuity.
“For me it’s not disparate at all, I can draw lines between all of the work here,” she said.
Explaining the ties that bind the pieces, Greenacre underscored the factors which drove and united Bowie’s range of acquisitions.
“The value to him in the artists was aesthetic, academic, intellectual, emotional – that’s where he was really, really investing,” she revealed.
Pointing to the Gilman painting as an example of a piece that caught Bowie’s eye for deeper than pure aesthetic reasons, Frances Christie, head of modern British paintings at Sotheby’s, highlighted his “intellectual engagement” with his chosen works.
According to Christie, “Mrs Mounter was the cleaning lady on Maple Street in this lodging house and it was really revolutionary to paint such an ordinary snippet of everyday life.”
Yet Bowie was also very savvy, identifying and searching out pieces that had special contextual significance in addition to aesthetic value.
“Gilman at the time was at the forefront of the avant-garde. Bowie knew this and really sought out this picture. It’s one of the very few pictures in the collection that at auction he bid a world record price for back in the mid-90s,” Christie continued.
British artists, including high profile painters and sculptors such as Frank Auerbach and Henry Moore, make up the heart of the collection, representing over 200 pieces in total.
And the so-called “Young British Artists” group who came together in the late 1980s in London are represented by such household names as Damien Hirst. Bowie retained a lifelong friendship with both him and Hirst’s famously candid contemporary Tracey Emin.
Indeed, Bowie felt he related on some level to many of the creators of the works he acquired.
According to Greenacre, “He spoke the same language as artists so he would really gain from those conversations - as would the artists.”
The risk of both sides getting carried away in a bubble of creative genius was very real, says Greenacre.
“They thought they were going to have a cup of tea and they were still having that cup of tea, hours, days later!”