David Bowie’s Private Art Collection Goes to Auction

There's a Basquiat, a Frank Auerbach, and a Damien Hirst in the top lots.

David Bowie with Peter Howson’s Croatian and Muslim (1994). Photograph: Richard Young/Rex Features.

Sotheby’s is to sell 380 art works from the collection of rock star David Bowie, who died this past January. Three sales, scheduled for November 10–11 in London, are valued in excess of £10 million ($13.3 million).

The top lot is expected to be an over-five-foot-high 1984 painting, Air Power, by Jean-Michel Basquiat, with an estimate of up to £3.5 million ($4.7 million). Bowie bought it at Christie’s in London in November 1995 for £78,500 ($120,122).

Jean-Michel Basquiat, <i>Air Power</i> (1984).

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Air Power (1984). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

The connection between Bowie and Basquiat was established in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 film Basquiat, in which he played the role of Andy Warhol (whom he met in 1971), part-mentor and collaborator of the young artist. It is clear that Bowie felt a strong connection to the artist and his method: “It comes as no surprise to learn that [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. He seemed to digest the frenetic flow of passing image and experience, put them through some kind of internal reorganization and dress the canvas with this resultant network of chance.”

Frank Auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm (1965)

Frank Auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm (1965). Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Another top lot is expected to be Frank Auerbach’s Head of Gerda Boehm (1965), a thickly encrusted monochromatic painting on board typical of that early period for the artist. “My God, yeah! I want to sound like that looks,” Bowie told the New York Times in 1998. He loved the rich, sculptural effects of Auerbach’s paintings: “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.”

Bowie bought the painting at Christie’s London in 1995 for £54,300; it’s now estimated to fetch up to £500,000 ($665,000).

Harold Gilman, <i> Interior (Mrs. Mounter)</i>, (1917). Courtesy of Sotheby's

Harold Gilman, Interior (Mrs. Mounter), (1917). Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Judging from the contents of the sale and what I know of his purchases having observed him at the auctions in the 1990s, his first love was for modern British art, from the early 20th century to the post-war schools of St Ives and London. Occasionally he would push the boat out on prices in this area when he wanted something badly. An example in this sale will be Harold Gilman’s Interior (Mrs Mounter) (1917), a classic Camden Town School wartime painting of a simple domestic subject bathed in subtle colors. He paid a record £111,500 for it in 1994. It is now estimated at up to £250,000 ($332,000).

Damien Hirst, Beautiful, shattering, slashing, violent, pinky, hacking, sphincter painting (1995). Photo: courtesy of White Cube © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012.

Damien Hirst, Beautiful, Shattering, Slashing, Violent, Pinky, Hacking Sphincter Painting (1995). Photo: courtesy of White Cube ©Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012.

Much to the dismay of the “Mod Brit” dealers, Bowie inevitably turned towards contemporary art and the Young British Artists. The leading example in the sales will be a 7-foot-diameter spin painting by Damien Hirst, Beautiful, Shattering, Slashing, Violent, Pinky, Hacking Sphincter Painting—an early example in this genre, dated 1995. Hirst’s spin paintings have fallen in value since pre-crash 2007, when one brand-new example with butterflies sold for £1.1 million ($2.3 million) over a £350,000 ($466,000) high estimate. Bowie’s spin painting carries the same estimate but is arguably more significant historically.

Bowie’s other main passion to be reflected in this sale is the Memphis designs of Ettore Sottsass, which carry estimates from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand. His personal record player is estimated at £1,200 ($1,600).

A radiophonograph by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni Brionvega from 1965 from David Bowie's private collection

A radiophonograph by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni Brionvega from 1965 from David Bowie’s private collection. Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Bowie’s idiosyncratic collection goes on view at Sotheby’s in London from July 20–August 9. The works will then travel across the pond to Los Angeles and New York for quick outings (September 20–21 and September 26–29, respectively) and to Hong Kong (October 12–15) before returning to London for a final showing ahead of the auctions, which take place on November 10–11.

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