“Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own,” David Bowie said in an interview in 1998. “It has always been for me a staple 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.”
Since Bowie’s death in January this year at the age of just 69, an increasing amount of attention has been paid to his role as an art collector, and anticipation has been building for a major sale of about 350 pieces from his collection at Sotheby’s London on November 10 and 11 (on view November 1-10, including an all-night view on November 4). There’s an emphasis on modern and contemporary British art, including names such as Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Frank Auerbach and Damien Hirst, alongside various other schools and designers, including the Memphis group and the Italian artist Ettore Sottsass.
“Looking at the whole collection in its entirety, it really feels like Bowie bought what he loved,” says Frances Christie, Sotheby’s head of modern and postwar British art. “The main focus is British art of the 20th century, but he was also interested in surrealism, he delved into contemporary African art, outsider art and 20th-century design. He didn’t just go for the obvious names.”
Among the items on offer include Auerbach’s Head of Gerda Boehm, estimated at £300,000-£500,000. “Bowie famously said of Auerbach’s work, ‘My God, yeah! I want to sound like that looks…’,” says Christie. Also on offer is Peter Lanyon’s monumental abstract Cornish landscape Witness (£250,000-£350,000), but not everything is in six figures. Alexandria, a found-object piece by contemporary African artist Romuald Hazoumè, known for his mask-like objects made with recycled materials, is estimated at £5,000-£7,000; and Bowie’s own record player, a Brionvega radiophonograph dating from 1965, is estimated at a very modest £800-£1,200 – although, as so often in auctions of this kind, the provenance is almost certain to push prices much higher.