David Bowie: Musician, Actor, Art Collector

Robin Rile Fine Art
Aug 26, 2016 6:33PM

“Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own,” revolutionary musician-artist David Bowie recounted to the New York Times in 1998. “It can change the way that I feel in the mornings. The same work can change me in different ways, depending on what I’m going through.”

Despite Fine Art being one of David Bowie’s most impassioned pursuits as an artist, musician, and collector, it was not until after his death that the world is able to glimpse into the tastes of one of the most creative minds of the 21st century.

Damien Hirst, Beautiful, shattering, slashing, violent, pinky, hacking, sphincter painting (1995)

Selectively acquiring over 400 art objects over the course of his life, Bowie’s collection is both extensive in its inclusions, and eclectic in its unity. Highlights from Bowie’s collection include works by contemporary British artists such as Stanley Spencer and Patrick Caulfield, a Rubens, a few Tintorettos, many works by German Expressionist artists such as Egon Schiele and Erich Heckel, and art powerhouses such as Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Marcel Duchamp. Bowie’s art will be auctioned by Sotheby’s this coming November in a three-part sale-spectacle.

Patrick Caulfield, 
Foyer (1973)Photo: courtesy the David Bowie collection, © the estate of Patrick Caulfield. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2013.

An obvious implication of this sale is the surrounding dialogue centering around the importance of provenance when a sale involves such a high profile collector. On this topic, Michael Findlay in “The Value of Art” states that:

“Practically speaking, infamous former owners usually disappear from a provenance unless there is significant published evidence of their former ownership. The degree to which an appealing provenance may actually increase the value of a work is very difficult to determine accurately….At most the added value might be 15 percent”

A student of art school, an artist, as well as an acclaimed musician, David Bowie was incredibly interested and educated in the politics of both ArtTheory and Art Collecting. Within the art world, novelist William Boyd noted that:

“He could be himself, David Jones rather than David Bowie. He found a forum and a world that he could move about in that had nothing to do with his fame. I think for a lot of famous people, if you can find that world, it’s actually tremendously gratifying and fulfilling.”

David Bowie “Heroes” album cover inspired by Heckel’s Roquairol

Perhaps Bowie’s greatest asset in amassing his collection was his sense of reverence for, and faith in, the power of the art itself. Bowie began collecting young and not for investment—purely for his own enjoyment. Bowie was greatly inspired by the works in his collection, and many of those works provided direct inspiration for his music—or even artistic inspiration for his next album cover.

Erich Heckel, Roquairol (1917)

As money was no object, Bowie could have amassed a collection hand-picked by the greatest advisors, and accumulated a collection rife with Rothkos, Pollocks, and Warhols. Instead Bowie was impassioned about collecting and researched the artworks himself, made studio visits to the artists he admired, and always contributed to the dialogue of the “outsider” arts of those who defied conventions such as Basquiat or the artists of the “Gugging” group. Such passion and respect for the beauty and truth imbued within the arts themselves, and the ability to form emotional connections with such works, allowed Bowie’s art collection integrate into his daily life; providing a constant reminder of the passion, innovation, and spirit Bowie would encapsulate in his own art.

American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s graffiti-style “Air Power” is a valuable lot to watch in the auction

Not one for the fanfare of modern day auctions, Bowie amassed his collection quietly, personally, and methodically. What remains is a multimedia collection of the proclivities of one of the most creative minds of our day. Yet not all of Bowie’s art collection might appeal to us—providing us with a spark of insight that both Michael Findlay and Bowie encouraged: to collect artwork based on personal proclivities, emotional resonance, and passion.

BASQUIAT, from left: Jeffrey Wright as Jean Michel Basquiat, David Bowie as Andy Warhol, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, 1996. ©Miramax

“David Bowie: Musician, Actor, Art Collector” 

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Robin Rile Fine Art