The late David Bowie amassed a phenomenal collection of art, yet his tastes were fairly unknown until now. I was lucky enough to experience first-hand the musician’s eclectic eye when I worked for him in the early 2000s. And revisiting the works in Sotheby’s ten-day exhibition is like taking a riveting journey through one man’s life-long passions and influences.
It might seem surprising that for such an avant-garde musician, Bowie was an avid collector of Modern British artists like Peter Lanyon, Ivon Hitchens, Leon Kossoff, and potter Bernard Leach. But his collecting style was as diverse as his musical career. With the aid of his personal curators, Kate Chertavian and Beth Greenacre, Bowie built a remarkable personal art collection that includes Marcel Duchamp, Frank Auerbach, Francis Picabia and Patrick Caufield, to name but a few.
As if taking a behind-the-scenes tour, the works reflect Bowie‘s flare for the unsung, the unexpected and the experimental. Works such as his collaboration with Damien Hirst (see above) Beautiful, hallo, space-boy painting, 1995 reveal not only a mutual respect between each artist but also Bowie’s sense of fun. He said Hirst was: ‘…one of the people who has helped make art accessible to the public in Britain in a way that had never happened before.’
In 1995 Bowie visited the Johannesburg Biennale, which spurred his love of Contemporary African art. His collection of Norman Catherine figurines is wonderfully juxtaposed near an Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture, whom Bowie likened the South African artist to: ‘He almost occupies the same space in South African art that Eduardo Paolozzi shoulders in British art. Rebellious and just ‘outside’. So, of course, I love him…I keep my little wooden Catherines all over the house; they appear in nooks and crannies, corners and on shelves. They still startle and light up the moment every time I glance in their direction.’
From a poignantly small Henry Moore maquette of a family and an exquisite series of Eric Gill drawings to Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s Air Power and a huge expressive John Virtue, the plethora of works echo the many facets of a revered man that helped shape the cultural terrain of the 20th century.
Bowie said in a 1998 New York Times article: ‘Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own. It has always been for me a stable nourishment. I use it. It can change the way I feel in the mornings. The same work can change me in different ways, depending on what I’m going through.’
Consisting of 400 works, the exhibition also highlights Bowie’s interest in Post-Modern design. Peppered throughout the showcase are the revolutionary designs of Ettore Sottsass and the Milan-based Memphis Group. Bright, bold and screaming individuality, they compliment the collection’s paintings and sculptures.
Although the programmed weekend of talks and events looking at Bowie’s influence on fashion, art and design is sold out, the exhibition is free to visit and is seriously a once-in-a-lifetime experience and should not be missed by art aficionados and Bowie fans alike.