The talk also preceded part of Bowie’s collection going under the hammer at Sotheby’s
in November across three sales. The auctions place Bowie’s collection under unprecedented scrutiny, and Greenacre was keen to discuss with the evening’s chair, The Art Newspaper
’s chief executive Anna Somers Cocks, how the musician built his love of artists
alongside other moonlighting activities as a journalist and publisher.
How did they start out? “I didn’t intend to,” said Roberts, who is the chief executive of property developer Edinburgh House Estates. “I just bought paintings. It became an obsession. I was always interested in art, and wanted things for my home.” It was meeting with artists that pushed his engagement to the next level. “I find it fascinating to go to studios…the vast majority of artists I have met have been very interesting, and the vast majority I have really liked.” He added that starting a collection was a “strange thing to do…it’s much easier now to research than it was 25 years ago.”
Both speakers highlighted distinctive philosophies behind their passions. Roberts focuses on an eclectic collection, with work from the 19th century to the present day; he said he worked hard to cement a relationship with museums, no doubt happy to capitalize upon his strong holdings of 20th-century work, including
. “Most museums are straightforward,” he added. “We are very happy to lend.”
Greenacre, on the other hand, speaks passionately about Bowie’s love for creatives of all stripes. “He famously said he collected ideas,” she said. The musician started collecting seriously in the ’90s, building up what is primarily a collection of modern British sculpture and painting, though with forays into
. He took a particular interest in artists using a “new visual language,” such as British painter Harold Gilman, who died in 1919. Such artists, to Bowie, were “under the radar,” but still a source of significant passion. Like Roberts, Bowie liked loaning and rotating his pieces; he was “adamant,” Greenacre said, “he wanted artists to get the exposure they deserved.”
He was also a fan of Italian designer and architect
, founder of the Memphis Group, which began in Milan in 1981. “He was iconoclastic, he was a true postmodernist,” Greenacre said. “He took from fine art,
, you can see why David was attracted to it.” The work, which included a record player and wall dividers, as well as the chairs of all of the employees in Bowie’s New York office, would be curated alongside the likes of
. “You realized it was all about surface.”
Channelling Eli Broad’s assertion that collecting can be a “compulsion and an addiction,” Cocks questioned why, if these collectors loved art so much, they needed to possess it. Roberts said he had principally collected for “pride of ownership” and maintained that artwork was just passing through his possession. For him, buying work was principally about love of it—“If I bought just on an investment basis I would buy very little”—rather than for profit. Though his collection numbers over 2,000 pieces, he says he has only sold 20 to 30 throughout his career, the vast majority at a loss.