The first part of the David Bowie art collection that went under the hammer at Sotheby’s yesterday (10 November) has achieved £24.3m ($30.5 m) with a painting by Jean-Michele Basquiat reaching £7 million, as buyers had deep pockets for the late musician’s chattels in London. The canvas “Air Power” canvas by Basquiat, was only estimated at £2.5 and £3.5 million. Bowie purchased “Air Power” and another painting by the artist before he starred in the 1996 biopic “Basquiat,” in which he played the artist Andy Warhol.
The work was one of 47 items in Bowie’s collection auctioned off on Thursday. Many were British Modern artworks, by some of the best-known names in the UK including Damien Hirst and Frank Auerbach. The second highest priced work was Frank Auerbach’s Head of Gerda Boehm,which fetched almost £3.8m – about £3.3m more than was expected. Bowie once said: “I think there are some mornings that if we hit each other a certain way – myself and a portrait by Auerbach – the work can magnify the kind of depression I’m going through. It will give spiritual weight to my angst.”
Three works by Damien Hirst were also sold on Thursday, including a collaborative work with Bowie which went for £785,000. The painting is entitled “Beautiful, hallo space-boy,” an allusion to Bowie’s recurring musical character of Major Tom, the astronaut explorer. Another work by modernist Basquiat, “Untitled”, sold for £2.4 million, well above the estimate of £500,000 to £700,000.
The musician was a serious art collector regularly attending auctions, as well as exhibitions and art fairs. He also served on the editorial board of the magazine Modern Painters during the 1990s and was the magazine’s publisher until it was sold to Louise Blouin. “He would interview artists that he thought were good, but on the whole, he was very private about his art collecting,” said Simon Hucker, senior specialist in modern and post-war British art at Sotheby’s, speaking ahead of the auction. Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe Oliver Barker who conducted the sale from the rostrum pointed out afterward that the market had ridden any fall-out from the US Presidential election two days earlier. “Given what the world has gone through in the last 48 hours, this was a huge boost of confidence,” he said.
The core of Bowie’s collection was 20th-century British painting but he also took an interest in contemporary African works and so-called outsider art, created by the mentally ill and other people outside traditionally defined art circles.
Other works owned by the music legend and actor, who died in January from cancer, are due to go under the hammer today (Friday). The proceeds of the sale will go to Bowie’s estate.