David Bowie's Art Collection Up for Auction Hits L.A. for Two Days Only

The Hollywood Reporter

Of the 400 pieces of David Bowie's massive art collection, Sotheby's will be showing 27 in its Los Angeles showroom Tuesday and Wednesday. The two-day glimpse is part of a world tour that originated in London last summer and will stop in New York next week, followed by Hong Kong in October. After that, the works will be part of an exhibit for 10 days in London before they are auctioned off Nov. 10-11. With an estimated value of $13 million, the collection includes modestly priced items, like furniture by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass for a few thousand dollars, as well as works by contemporary masters like Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose "Air Power" (1984) is expected to draw the highest bid of roughly $3.3 million.

In addition to Basquiat, the traveling selection includes such blue-chip names as Damien Hirst, whose spin-art painting from 1995 is included, and a small-scale sculpture, "Family Group," by Henry Moore. For those keeping score, the latter two are British, just two of the many artists Bowie collected from his home country.

"He liked the idea of collecting 20th century British art because he was British, but it was a field of collecting he could explore and get great things," Sotheby's contemporary British art specialist Simon Hucker told The Hollywood Reporter of some 200 works in the category. While lamenting the fact 20th century British artists still haven't acquired the star power of their American and continental European counterparts, he remains optimistic prices are at an all-time high.

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Among those looking to break records in the category is the post-impressionist Camden Town Group artist Harold Gilman's 1917 painting, "Interior (Mrs Mounter)," of a woman standing in a bedroom in a meditative light, estimated to sell for as much as $330,000. Peter Lanyon's abstract "Witness," with its bold black-and-white brushstrokes, is expected to pull at least the same. Other U.K. artists represented include Stanley Spencer, Patrick Caulfield, Graham Sutherland, Leon Kossoff, David Bromberg and Frank Auerbach, whose portrait of his cousin, Greta, inspired Bowie's sound, the musician once said.

Bowie's tastes ranged from art stars to non-stars, people like the patients of Vienna's Gugging Group, part of the Gugging psychiatric clinic that specializes in art as therapy. "The collection represents Mr. Bowie in the sense that it's interesting, it's different, it's eclectic, it's surprising," offered Hucker.

The musician studied art and design in technical school as a young man, and maintained a keen interest as his career took off and he could afford to buy works by some of his icons. During his lifetime, Bowie hung the works in his numerous homes or placed them in storage, while others were readily loaned to art institutions for public viewing. Since his passing in January, the estate has nowhere to store the sprawling collection, which was one of the reasons for the auction.

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An iconic piece that won't make it to L.A. is Marcel Duchamp's readymade sculpture, "With Hidden Noise," which has an estimated price of $300,000. A ball of twine wedged between two brass plates, the piece emits a noise when shaken, due to a mysterious item placed inside the ball of string by Duchamp's wife - an item not known even to the artist. It's hardly surprising that Bowie, a gender-bending pioneer who redefined what a rock idol could look and sound like, related to Duchamp, an artist who questioned what constituted an artwork, and how to define an artist.

In the '90s, while Bowie was buying works from various decades going back to the early part of the century, he also was running with the art star of the moment, Hirst, and the Young British Art scene. "He's collecting both ends of it. That's classic [Bowie], to be interested in everything," said Hucker, summing up the exhibit. "It's about what he's interested in as a collector and how interested he is in culture in general."