Inside David Bowie’s art collection

Walking around a personal art collection evokes a similar guilty pleasure as poking around someone’s home. We see snippets of their life through the objects that they treasured and valued. David Bowie amassed some 400 paintings, drawings, sculptures and design objects. As his collection gets ready to go under the hammer next week, Sotheby’s have opened the works up for viewing in a 10-day public exhibition, and the rooms are teaming with snoopers.

10_bowie'Big Sur' sofa designed by Peter Shire in 1986, and a Spin painting by Damian Hirst behind. Photo credit: Sotheby's

David Bowie was an icon, acclaimed for his music and pioneering style, and now, for his art collection. He accumulated these works of art over decades, and was actively passionate about art, collecting, curating and supporting young artists.

Bowie set up Bowieart in 2000, an online platform dedicated to supporting the work of young and emerging artists. He was on the editorial board of Modern Painters magazine, and co-founded 21, a small art publishing company. The works he owned were constantly being loaned to galleries from the Tate to the Whitechapel, yet he was private about his own collection and his work in the art world was relatively little publicised.

16-2_bowieA pair of 'outsider art' drawings by Johann Fischer, a residents at Gugging, a psychiatric ward near Vienna, Austria. Bowie and Eno visited the hospital in early 1994; an experience that went on to inspire the 1995 album Outside. Photo credit: Sotheby's

Bowie’s collection is as captivating and unique as was his character. Its diversity spans Stanley Spencer’s 'Carrying Mattresses' from 1920-21, a fish in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst, an impressive collection of postmodern Memphis Group furniture, and, out of nowhere, a sixteenth century altarpiece by Tintoretto and studio.

His commitment to new artists is evident in his collection on display at Sotheby’s, in which works by Jean-Michel Basquiat sit alongside 'outsider art' drawings by residents at Gugging, a psychiatric ward near Vienna, and works by emerging contemporary African artists.

Interior (Mrs Mounter) by Harold Gilman, 1917. This painting is estimated at £150,000-250,000. Photo credit: Sotheby's

In 1999, the musician said in an interview: “the only thing I buy obsessively and addictively is art”, and his passion and personal input into the collection is clear. Bowie grew up in London, and artists who were equally inspired by the city, such as Harold Gilman and David Bomberg, are among the best represented genre in the collection, Modern British artists.

Bowie once described art as his “stable nourishment”; it was a passion kept apart from the eminent Ziggy Stardust. Yet, the collection on display is far from demure, and it is in its mix of divergent styles that Bowie’s depth of character comes through.

Within the collection are two Spin paintings by Damien Hirst, one of which is a collaborative work made with Bowie. Hirst describes Bowie’s visit to his studio and the making of the giant Spin painting, saying Bowie "understood art and loved it and understood the tension and the colour and playfulness in the spin paintings."

The vibrancy and spontaneity of these works mirror many of the design objects in the collection, particularly the eccentricity of Italian designer Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group. Their inimitable designs depict a distinct lack of concern for convention.

Brionvega Radiofonografo RR226, by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni, 1965. Photo credit: Sotheby's

Among the design works, which will be auctioned in their own sale, are a small cube radio by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper and a radio phonograph by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni. Both are fantastically sixties in their design, and, just as Bowie’s paintings and drawings were far from investments but well-loved possessions, it’s great to think of these radios as more than objects to be observed, but items to be enjoyed and turned up full volume.

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Annabel Sheen

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