Arts > Exhibition review: Bowie / Collector

Posted on August 8, 2016
Image courtesy of Sotheby's

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

Joe Marshall explores the private passion of an icon

David Bowie was forever reinventing himself. He would shake up and reconfigure his approach to fashion and music all the time, as a matter of course. He was like a living work of art. Its no surprise then that he was a formidable and prolific art collector.

In November, the prestigious Sotheby’s auction house are giving people the opportunity to bid on works from an incredibly varied and impressive collection of around 400 items. Ahead of what will no doubt be an exclusive affair, anyone can attend a free preview of the sale, finishing on 9th August.

Bowie’s art collection greatly influenced his musical life. This fact is perfectly encapsulated in a single object in the show – his personal record player. It’s a pristine cream piece of design, that looks like a cross between a kitchen appliance and a gadget on a spacecraft. It was made by designers Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni, and has something of an Italian scooter about it too.

Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own

An intentionally primitive looking piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat appears in the exhibition. It’s a combination of nightmarish, tribalesque visuals and a child doing graffiti on a wall. The image is naive, but at the same time powerful and raw. Bowie in fact appeared in a biopic of Basquiat’s life, where he played Andy Warhol.

Work by the Memphis Group of designers appears in the centre of the main space, like a science fiction living room suite. In the 1980s they produced colourful, deconstructed furniture, often favouring bold statement design over practical purpose.

They made everything from kettles to lamps on wheels. Their legacy lives on today, having influenced things like Adidas trainers. Taken out of their original context, the patterns on their designs look like something Ferris Bueller would wear on his day off.

A Henry Moore sculpture of a huddled family is expressive, despite the figures not having faces. Their posture and form alone conveys a loving household scene. It is atypical of Moore because it depicts realistic humans, as opposed to the more abstract shapes he liked to produce. It’s as if Morph and his closest relatives have been cast in bronze.

Image courtesy of Sotheby's

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

There’s an eye popping, textured painting of a woman’s face, made using thick layers of paint which protrude from the canvas. From an angle it looks like an abstract piece. Only when you face it dead on do you realise it’s a portrait. The subject looks in distress, as if her features are melting along with her sense of who she is.

Bowie said of the artist Frank Auerbach’s work, “My God, yeah! I want to sound like that looks”.

A circular, paint splattered canvas by Damien Hirst could be taken as a happy accident. It is most likely anything but. It seems to play on cosmological imagery, such as a star collapsing. It could be taken as a depiction of the big bang – the origin of all creativity and of course art. Wyndham Lewis’ Circus Scene is a futuristic vision from the early 1900s. Figures hang loosely together, as if floating in a big top where the gravity has been turned off.

I don’t know if there’s an overarching theme or indeed anything present throughout the whole of David Bowie’s art collection. What binds all the pieces together is that none of them are dull or unremarkable. They were an endless source of inspiration for the late great rock star who, despite his wealth said “Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own”.

Some of the pieces are going to be auctioned for hundreds of thousands of pounds. If you’re fascinated by art but haven’t sold a lot of records, this is a great chance to gawk at what you will never be able to afford.

Image courtesy of Sotheby's

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

Be sure to catch the preview showcase at Sotheby’s on Bond Street, before 9th August. After that it heads off on a world tour.

The auctions are to be held 10th – 11th November.

Joe Marshall
Joe Marshall is Exposure’s Entertainments Editor. With his written content he endeavours to raid the full remit of arts and culture in London, if he doesn’t drown in it first. He aspires to make a career out of journalism like his heroes Tom Wolfe, Hunter S Thompson and Jon Ronson before him.


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