David Bowie’s art collection is as eclectic as you’d imagine

Over 350 works owned by the late musician will auction at Sotheby's next month, including a painting he made with Damien Hirst.

Neil Churchill October 19, 2016

When David Bowie passed away in January this year much attention focused on his final and recently released album Blackstar

Several of the tracks had connotations of death and the afterlife, with Lazarus in particular suggesting the Starman knew his time on this planet was nearing its end. 

But Bowie was always more than just an audio artist. Even in his music he considered the visual elements, album covers and music videos, to be as important as the melodies and lyrics. It’s not surprising then that Bowie was an avid collector of art and while he loaned generously to exhibitions, his private collection was as staggering and unique as the man himself. 

Next month the musician’s personal art collection will go to auction in a three-part sale through Sotheby’s London, with over 350 works going under the hammer. 

At the heart of the “Bowie/Collector” series is 200 modern and contemporary artworks by several of the most important British artists of the 20th century, including Damien Hirst, Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. Pieces by David Bomberg, Stanley Spencer and Frank Auerbach are included in the lots, as well as several unique works such as an altarpiece by Renaissance master Tintoretto.

One of the most unique pieces from the collection is a spin painting that Bowie and Hirst created together and which they both signed and dated, titled Beautiful, Hallo, Space-Boy Painting. As part of its sale, Hirst describes in length his friendship with Bowie and how the spin painting came to be - an extract is at the bottom of this page.

The collection shows not only the passion Bowie had for collecting but also his intellectual engagement with art. He amassed works from the post-war British avant-garde era, German expressionism and even the aftermath of South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. 

The full exhibition of all 350 works opens to the public in London on November 1st and runs until the 10th when the first of two auctions of his modern and contemporary art collection begins. The third auction consisting of Bowie’s design collection takes place on the 11th and closes the series.

Included in the design lots is a classic Ettore Sottsass and Perry King ‘Valentine’ red portable typewriter, an Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni radio-phonograph and a Peter Shire rather crazy looking ‘Big Sur’ sofa. 

Listening to Bowie’s music was always an insight into the man himself, his mind and what made him tick. But it’s clear from this auction series that his collecting of art was as every bit eclectic and thought provoking as his music. We suggest you get yourself to London in time for that first lot.

Below is an extract from Damien Hirst's insight into the making of his and Bowie's spin painting, taken from the lot's page.

"David was like a child, childish and childlike when he came to see me in the studio and we made a giant spin painting together... he was brilliant fun to spin with. I remember telling him to come to the studio in old clothes but he turned up in brand new expensive clothes, he said he didn't have any old clothes but didn't mind getting paint on the new shirt he was wearing, I loved that! He took his watch off at one point and stuck it on the painting but we spun it some more and it threw it across the studio and smashed it, he never even picked it up.

"Around the time we made the painting, we were hanging out a lot and having these long conversations about what it meant to be an artist. What does an artwork say about an artist’s personality? Is the person of the artist always present in a piece of art? It’s something I’ve thought of quite often with the spins because they’re an interesting meditation on the role of the artist – the results manage to say not a lot about the person who has spun them, because they're governed by the forces of chance and movement, and in the end it's harder to make a bad one than a good one and they all look similar in some way whoever makes them.

"David called them ‘art without the angst’. I told him they were like punk art to me and he thought about it for a little while and told me a story where he said he was once going to a punk gig with his son in New York and his son came down wearing punk clothes and David said to him: ‘Do I have to go out with you dressed like that?’ Amazing that even David Bowie could react like that when confronted with the new."