Bowie’s art collection not only reflects his role as a musician, but as an Anglophile who never lost sense of his Britishness.
Damien Hirst, Beautiful, hello, space-boy painting, 1995 (household gloss on canvas, 213.4cm diameter; est. £250,000-350,000 / €300,000-420,000 / US$333,000-466,000) All images © Sotheby's
As a musician, David Bowie was famous for embracing a variety of styles, from rock to disco, to new wave and beyond. Less is known about his method of collecting art, probably because not many people are aware that Bowie was an art collector to begin with. Now, Sotheby's is aiming to change that, displaying 400 objects from the icon's personal collection in the exhibition Bowie/Collector in London in November, followed by a three-part auction.
Selections from Bowie's contemporary art collection are in the midst of a preview world tour, hitting London, LA, New York, and Hong Kong. The highlights illustrate just how Bowie's boundless vision and eclectic tastes defined not only his music, but the nature of his art collection, too.
Bryn Sayles and Simon Hucker of Sotheby's helped organize Bowie/Collector. Hucker, who is a senior specialist of Modern & Post-War British Art at Sotheby's says that no one really knows when Bowie started collecting art, but the bulk of it was probably purchased in the 1990s, with Bowie still acquiring works up until his death.
In the Los Angeles preview, it was obvious that certain objects are from the collection of an artist whose primary medium was sound: there's a mod cube-shaped radio, a found-object assemblage with an old phone, an 80s-looking telephone, and a vintage-style radio/record-player console.
"He could have had a super hi-fi, but he was like, 'Oh, I just like the look of that thing. I think it's a cool object," Hucker tells The Creators Project. Hucker says, "I think the relationship between his collecting and the music, it's just the way he put things together. He'd look at his music and take sounds and structures from all sorts of places, old and new, far and wide. And it's the same thing with the collection.”
More than reflecting a relationship to his music, however, the items in Bowie's art collection show that he was a proud Anglophile at heart, with a lifelong connection to his native land. There's a lot of 20th century British art, and with the exception of a collaboration between Bowie and Damien Hirst, many of the pieces are by British artists who are only now coming to the fore. These include Englishman Peter Lanyon and his abstract expressionism, in the vein of Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning. "For me, this painting is a testament to the interconnectedness of British modernism and international modernism," Hucker explains. "Perhaps, it's gotten a little forgotten over time, and [Bowie] would have just recognized this as a kind of phenomenal work of art."
According to Hucker, Bowie was a voracious reader who not only collected art, but had a vast library as well, whether it was books on artists' monographs, or volumes on culture, society, and political history. While Bowie was friends with dealers in London and had people help him find things, for the most part, his collection was self-curated and defined by his own tastes. "I think what's really interesting about this collection is, you'll getting a really personal insight into him," Hucker says.
Whether it was music or visual art, Bowie was interested in every genre, style, medium, and discipline. This approach was rooted in his early admiration of Marcel Duchamp, as well as the cut-up technique of the Dadaists. "That's how he wrote his lyrics, and I think all of that stuff's there," Hucker explains. "And I think you see it a bit in the collection as well."
Looking at the collection itself, it's apparent that Bowie always looked beyond the mainstream to the margins, peripheries, and hidden gems. "I think that's really an interesting aspect of his collecting idea," Hucker says. "I think you just have to look at the collection as a whole. It's almost like a kind of an album."
See a selection of items from the auction below.
Bowie/Collector is on exhibit November 1—10 at Sotheby’s in London. Auctions take place November 10 and 11. A preview of Bowie/Collector is on view in New York September 26—29 and Hong Kong October 12—15. Visit the auction website here.