Bowie/Collector – Sotheby’s Preview Exhibition

On his 69th birthday, on the 8th of January this year, David Bowie released the album ‘Blackstar’. I bought it immediately and spent the weekend listening to it. I thought it a strange and beautiful work, ambitious, experimental and intriguing. And then days later he was dead and the album was suddenly reassessed by the world. Was it a final requiem, a gift to his fans, death as the final act of performance art, a choreographed goodbye, or perhaps all of the above?

Opening today is Bowie/Collector, a preview exhibition at Sotheby’s, which is a snippet of the 400 works that will go under the hammer in November. We knew him as a musician, actor, pioneer and artist, but this show introduces us to another aspect of the man – Bowie the art collector. This taster exhibition shows us the art that interested him, that he loved and purchased for his own delight, and what an interesting collection it is.

‘David’s art collection was fuelled by personal interest and compiled out of passion. He always sought and encouraged loans from the collection and enjoyed sharing the works in his custody.’

A spokesman for Bowie’s estate.

The most surprising aspect of the selection is the prominence of British art, especially from the early and mid 20th century and the artists who were based in and around St Ives. Wyndham Lewis drawings hang alongside an unassuming Harold Gilman painting and a Peter Lanyon in cornish blues and greens. A beautiful painting by William Scott (a favourite of mine who deserves greater recognition) sits beside bronzes by Kenneth Armitage and Eduardo Paolozzi.

But this isn’t a parochial inward looking collection. In the first room you encounter a marvellous Duchamp, and in the centre of the second, a collection of post-modern Memphis furniture by Ettore Sottsass is looked over by a stunning, large Basquiet. I visited the show with my friend, the painter and lifelong Bowie fan, Matthew Stradling. As he pointed out, the interesting thing is that the show it is not stuffed full of abstract expressionism and masterpieces of the avant grade, and works that you might expect. It appears to be a quieter, more understated and cohesive collection.

So like ‘Blackstar’, this preview of Bowie’s art collection is a surprising, captivating gift; a look into his private world. I can’t wait to see the full exhibition that will run before the three auctions in November.

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