Inside David Bowie’s Private Collection

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David Bowie was a musician, actor and icon, as well as a publisher, curator and magazine editor with Modern British art at the heart of those passions. Born in South London, it’s perhaps no surprise that he was drawn to chroniclers of the capital’s streets such as Harold Gilman and Frank Auerbach while he also collected St Ives-based painter Peter Lanyon in particular depth. However, his collection is by no means limited to British art alone and also encompasses Contemporary African art, self-taught artists from Vienna’s Gugging institution, as well as designs by Ettore Sottsass and the revolutionary Memphis group. Click ahead to see selected highlights from the collection, set to be unveiled in its entirety in the coming weeks and months.

Bowie/Collector
10–11 November

Inside David Bowie’s Private Collection

  • Damien Hirst, Beautiful, shattering, slashing, violent, pinky, hacking, sphincter painting, 1995. Estimate £250,000–350,000.
    Bursting with a magnificently dynamic energy in its pulsating kaleidoscope of reds, greens, blues and yellows, this is a vibrant and powerful example of Damien Hirst’s trademark ‘spin’ paintings . Hirst was one of only a handful of high-profile contemporary artists for whom Bowie publically expressed his admiration. “He’s different. I think his work is extremely emotional, subjective, very tied up with his own personal fears – his fear of death is very strong – and I find his pieces moving and not at all flippant,” said Bowie in an interview with the New York Times.



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  • Peter Shire, 'Big Sur' Sofa, 1986. Estimate £4,000–6,000.
    Los Angeles-based sculptor and furniture maker Peter Shire was one of the original members of the Milan-based Memphis Group which is known for its Postmodern designs incorporating bold colours and shapes. Shire's sculptural Big Sur sofa is playfulness in both shape and structure. The sofa has the whimsy of an imaginary world, as though it would be part of the set design of a child's dream sequence. Shire explains why he enjoys blurring with the line between art and function: "Fun. We're Californians, we’re baby boomers, we're in for fun, absurdity, exhilaration, and intoxication…"



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  • Jean-Michel Basquiat, Air Power, 1984. Estimate £2,500,000–3,500,000.
    In a 1996 issue of Modern Painters magazine, Bowie wrote of Jean-Michel Basquiat: “I feel the very moment of his brush or crayon touching the canvas. There is a burning immediacy to his ever evaporating decisions that fires the imagination ten or fifteen years on, as freshly molten as the day they were poured onto the canvas.” The Bowie-Basquiat connection is best known through the lens of Julian Schnabel’s 1996 film Basquiat, in which Bowie played the role of Andy Warhol, mentor and collaborator of the young artist. Air Power was acquired by Bowie the following year. “It comes as no surprise to learn that he [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.”



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  • Kenneth Armitage, Figure Lying on its Side (Version 3).
    Estimate £50,000–70,000.
    David Bowie’s collection includes prime examples of post-war British sculpture, from Henry Moore, William Turnbull and Eduardo Paolozzi to Kenneth Armitage. Armitage, whose forms are informed by archaeology and figurative studies, heralded a ‘New Bronze Age’ of sculpture after being exhibited at the 1952 Venice Biennale.



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  • Frank Auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm, 1965. Estimate £300,000–500,000.
    Bowie loved the rich, sculptural effects of Auerbach’s paintings. In a 1998 interview in the New York Times, he said to art critic Michael Kimmelman: "I find his kind of bas-relief way of painting extraordinary. Sometimes I’m not really sure if I’m dealing with sculpture or painting.” And Bowie clearly felt a deep affinity with the artist, whose work could provoke in him a whole gamut of reactions: “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. I can look at it and say: My God, yeah! I want to sound like that looks.” Head of Gerda Boehm , a portrait of the Auerbach’s cousin, was last exhibited in 2001 when Bowie lent it to the artist’s much-heralded retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.



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  • Harold Gilman, Interior (Mrs Mounter), 1917. Estimate £150,000–250,000.
    Harold Gilman’s painting , an essay in stillness, of the remains of the day, appears at first glance to be anything but revolutionary. But in the context of British art in the early 20th century, it is, in its own quiet and covert way, very radical. This was a new kind of subject, a suburban lodger and part-time charlady, lost in thought in a nondescript room in an ordinary London house. For art to be modern, artists like Gilman demanded that it should be concerned with the everyday life of the city, with the peripheral and unseen, with the working classes. All of this must not have been lost to Bowie, a boy born in Brixton just after the Second World War, when much of London’s housing stock was still as it was in the early part of the century – grand Georgian houses subdivided into flats and bedsitters, with tall thin sash windows, linoleum floors and a stove for heat.



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  • Peter Lanyon, Witness, 1961. Estimate £250,000–350,000.
    Witness is one of three works by Peter Lanyon that Bowie loaned to the artist’s retrospective at Tate St Ives in 2010. Lanyon painted Witness two years after he had first taken to the skies in a glider. This new activity allowed him to see the Cornish landscape from a radically different perspective and to bring bigger, more elemental forces into his painting, becoming “like the mountaineer who cannot see the clouds without feeling the lift inside them.” This is a painting of American scale and ambition, painted in a converted sail-loft in a small fishing town on the western-most tip of England.



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  • Romuald Hazoumé, Alexandra, 1995. Estimate £5,000–7,000.
    Beninese artist Romauld Hazoumé is probably best known for his sculptural assemblages of commonplace found objects, such as Alexandra . Much like Marcel Duchamp and his Readymades, Hazoumé appropriates familiar objects and reconfigures them, creating a dialogue between art history and the history of colonialism in Africa, as well as contemporary African politics, especially those surrounding oil. Alexandra is indicative of Bowie’s far-reaching collecting interests, as well as his love of works with multiple layers of meaning and a sense of mischief and play. Bowie’s approach to Contemporary African art – as with all other elements of the collection – was marked by a deep intellectual rigour, exemplified by his five-page review of the inaugural Johannesburg Biennale for Modern Painters in 1995.



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  • Ettore Sottsass, 'Casablanca' Sideboard, 1981. Estimate £3,000–5,000.
    Breaking with the minimalist aesthetic that characterised furniture design in the 1970s, Ettore Sottsass and the Milan-based Memphis group revolutionised cutting-edge design, introducing fun, humour and strikingly bold colour combinations into functional pieces. The 'Casablanca' Sideboard , from the first Memphis collection in 1981, is considered a defining work of postmodern design, with examples held in numerous major museum collections around the world including the V&A in London, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museo dei Mobile e delle Sculture Lignee, Milan.



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  • Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni, Brionvega Radiophonograph, model no. RR 126, 1965. Estimate £800–1,200.
    It perhaps comes as no surprise to discover that the most innovative and daring musician of his generation listened to music on such an unconventional record player. Created by brothers Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni for Brionvega, this playful stereo cabinet is a definitive piece of 1960s Italian design, with examples in the permanent collections of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York and the V&A in London.



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  • Damien Hirst with David Bowie, Beautiful, hallo, space-boy painting, 1995. Estimate £250,000–350,000.
    David Bowie collaborated with Damien Hirst on Beautiful, hallo, space-boy painting in 1995, the same year the artist won the Turner prize. David Bowie recalled: "I had a ball. I felt like I was 3 years old again. It reminded me of Picasso’s attitude. You know, he set the parameters in the studio that produced a kind of playfulness out of which came a very pure thing" (New York Times, June 1998).



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  • Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1984. Estimate £500,000–700,000.
    Untitled and Air Power were both acquired by David Bowie in 1995, the year before he played the iconic role of Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s film Basquiat. Bowie would go on to show his admiration for the artist over the following years, first with an essay he wrote for Modern Painters in the spring of 1996, and in his 2001 essay for the anthology Writers On Artists. It is clear that Bowie felt a strong connection to the artist, he said: "It comes as no surprise to learn that [Basquiat] had a not-so-hidden ambition to be a rock musician, his work relates to rock in ways that very few other visual artists get near." (Modern Painters, 1996).



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  • Patrick Caulfield, Foyer, 1973. Estimate £400,000–600,000.
    Patrick Caulfield’s work, like David Bowie’s own, is hard to describe in any singular way. Foyer is one of Caulfield’s masterpieces and was generously lent by Bowie to artist’s retrospectives at the Hayward in 1998 and the Tate in 2013. An elegant Modernist homage to Mondrian, taking place within a drab non-space of 1970s London, its subtle pictorial techniques and games between line, plane and volume serve not only to break down the viewer’s perception of space but also to elevate the work from straight-up Pop to formal Abstraction.



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  • David Bomberg, Moorish Rhonda, Andalucia, 1935.
    Estimate £150,000–250,000.
    Expelled from the conservative Slade School of Art, David Bomberg developed an ability to skilfully handle impasto surfaces of paint, which he critically passed on to Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, key figures in the post-war London school of painting. David Bowie had a strong eye for Bomberg’s work and collected it in depth and this work, painted in the mountains of Northern Spain in the summer of 1935, is a particularly expressive and dynamic example .



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  • Marcel Duchamp, A Bruit Secret, 1964. Estimate £180,000–250,000.
    "Sometimes I wish that I could put myself in Duchamp's place to feel what he felt when he put those things on show and said: 'I wonder if they’ll go for this. I wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow morning'." [David Bowie, New York Times, 1998]. Innovator, iconoclast and showman, the appeal of Marcel Duchamp to David Bowie is clear. For this 1964 reprisal of the 1916 ‘readymade,’ Duchamp’s wife Teeny anonymously chose an object to be trapped inside a ball of string to rattle against two brass plates.



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  • Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Glacier (Bone), 1950.
    Estimate £50,000–70,000.
    Bowie’s collection contains strong examples of work by female artists, including this piece by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. Barns-Graham moved to St. Ives in 1940 to work alongside key modern artists such as Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon and Naum Gabo. Inspired by her surroundings and her contemporaries, Barns-Graham’s abstraction is based in observation. Her trip to the Grindelwald glacier in Switzerland in 1948 inspired a series of works entitled Glacier that were rooted in her fascination with the transparency and complex geometry of the ice structures, images and forms which she would revisit throughout the rest of her career.



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  • Johann Fischer, Meine Richtige Mutter in Jungen Jahren / Der Vater Meines Vorgangers, 1985. Estimate £2,000–3,000.
    Trained as a baker and a veteran of the Second World War, Johann Fischer was committed to Klosterneuburg Psychiatric Hospital near Vienna in 1961. After 21 years at the hospital, he began to draw and was invited to the Haus der Künstler at the Atelier Gugging. Bowie visited the Atelier on a number of occasions to witness the raw creativity and complete individuality of these Outsider artists.



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