Sunday 2 October 2016

London Calling | Bowie’s art world in auction

Frank Auerbach Head of Gerda Boehm, 1965 Oil on board
Sunday, October 2, 2016 - Musician, actor, icon — David Bowie was for almost 50 years one of the most recognised and revered artists in the world, his influence transcending music to shape the wider culture of our time. His life as an art collector, however, was something he kept almost entirely hidden from public view. Now, for the first time, this little-known side of Bowie will be fully revealed. “Eclectic, unscripted, understated: David Bowie’s collection offers a unique insight into the personal world of one of the 20th century’s greatest creative spirits.” Oliver Barker, Chairman, Sotheby’s Europe. In November this year, Sotheby’s will stage Bowie/Collector – a three-part sale that includes a selection of around 400 items from the private collection of David Bowie. At its heart will be Bowie’s collection of Modern and Contemporary British art – a richly stimulating group of over 200 works by many of the most important British artists of the 20th century, including Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Frank Auerbach and Damien Hirst. Bowie’s famously inquisitive mind also led him to Outsider Art, Surrealism, Contemporary African art and, not least, to the work of the eccentric Italian designer Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group. This is a collection put together with great thoughtfulness on the basis not of reputation but of Bowie’s highly personal, intellectual response to each artist’s individual vision. From 1–10 November, Bowie’s private collection will be exhibited at Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries in London, giving fans, art historians and collectors a once-ina-lifetime opportunity to immerse themselves in the art and objects that informed his private world.

Peter Lanyon,
Witness, 1961
Oil on canvas
The depth of Bowie’s engagement with the art world cannot be overemphasised. He was an artist, critic, patron, publisher, curator and magazine editor, with London – and Modern British art – at the heart of this passion. In 1994 – in a characteristically unorthodox move for a rock superstar – he joined an invitationonly academic coterie on the editorial board of Modern Painters magazine, for which he interviewed the likes of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. In 1998, he launched the art-book publishing company 21 alongside Karen Wright, then editor of Modern Painters, the gallerist Bernard Jacobson and Sir Timothy Sainsbury. His time at 21 is best remembered for perhaps the most infamous hoax in recent art history, when Bowie hosted an elaborate party at Jeff Koons’ Manhattan studio for the launch of a book celebrating the life and work of a mysterious artist named Nat Tate, a wholly fictional creation of his friend, the novelist William Boyd. Bowie painted throughout his life and was immersed in the artistic communities not only of London, but also of New York and Berlin. He first met Andy Warhol at the legendary ‘Factory’ studio in New York in 1971; and was critically acclaimed for his portrayal of the American Pop pioneer in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 biopic, Basquiat.

Born and raised in South London, it is perhaps no surprise that Bowie was drawn to chroniclers of the capital’s streets such as Harold Gilman, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, whose tutor and inspiration, David Bomberg, Bowie also collected in depth. Away from the city, the British landscape was also a constant source of fascination for Bowie, represented here by the St Ives school and later post-war and contemporary painters such as Ivon Hitchens and John Virtue. Bowie’s collecting was by no means limited to British art: from early century pioneers such as Marcel Duchamp to Jean-Michel Basquiat (represented in the summer London preview by his 1984 masterpiece Air Power), to Contemporary African art and ‘Outsider’ artists from the Gugging Institute in Vienna, the collection is truly breathtaking in its scope, encompassing paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints and photographs. Set to be unveiled in its entirety in the coming weeks and months, it reveals a collector of farreaching interests, intellectual rigour and subtle vision. Bowie was also a voracious collector of the work of Ettore Sottsass and his revolutionary Memphis Design group.

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

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