I Can’t Give Everything Away: The Art Collection of David Bowie

Bowie calling

Musician, actor, curator.  Artist, icon, Bowie. There is no one word that defines him other than his name; such was the broadness of his interests, his pursuits, his (sound and) vision. Certainly, he will be mostly remembered for his music, and not everyone will have fond memories of the Goblin King, but to encapsulate what a pioneering, influential figure he was, there really is no other option in terms of providing an explanation.

It’s half a year since he’s gone and there’s no sign of his spirit disappearing. The Aladdin Sane lightning bolt atop the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury; a box set “Who Can I Be Now?” featuring songs from his “American phase,” out this Autumn; even a musical based on “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” coming to London in October (although admittedly Bowie co-wrote the show before his death). But his art collection? That truly is a new side to him, one that has only been hinted at before.

This November, Sotheby’s will be auctioning over 400 pieces of work from Bowie’s collection, many by some of the most celebrated British artists of the twentieth century. Before that, it will tour Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong before a full exhibition in London in the week leading up to the grand sale, which is expected to bring in a cool £10 million- and that’s just the value of the paintings, before you take into account the previous owner.

For now, a preview of the exhibition has opened in the art business’s Mayfair branch, and with the luck of the draw giving me a day off on its opening morning, me and my housemate decided to head down. Thankfully, it wasn’t too packed- this is after all, only a preview, with just over two dozen pieces on display from the full collection- but there was still an excitable buzz as we meandered the halls checking out the pieces.

Not surprisingly, one of the highlights is Damien Hurst’s “Beautiful, shattering, slashing, violent, pinky, hacking, sphincter painting,” what I now know to be one of his trademark “spin” paintings. The vibrancy of so many colours, twisting around the circle in such a wild, enigmatic manner, made it impossible to miss this piece, an explosion of unrestrained creativity.

I also greatly enjoyed Ettore Sottsass’s ‘Casablanca’ Sideboard, another piece that refuses to blend into the background- except that this was a piece of furniture. So often now we pick out sets of matching chest of drawers, bedside tables and the like, almost for want of uniformity and order, but the jutting shapes and bold colours of this piece are entertaining to behold.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the most astonishing revelation that Bowie had an unusual record player, but the sleek, insatiably stylish Brionvega Radiophonograph by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni was something to behold. Accompanying it was a list of “25 Albums that could “Change Your Reputation,” according to David Bowie,” originally from a Vanity Fair article in 2013. I’m ashamed (but also not surprised, if I’m honest) that I did not have any on the list, but that will also make for interesting listening at some point in the future.

And there, in among the displays, are striking poses of the man himself- constantly reminding you that these particular pieces of art will forever be embedded with a unique context. Why did he buy them? How did they fit into his collection, his style, and his overall outlook on life? The further you look into these things, the more they befuddle you; at its simplest, it offers another definition of Bowie for us to ponder over.

Bowie me

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Let All The Children Boogie.

david bowie starman

In my mid-teens I made a short lived venture into amateur musical theatre, starting with a seventies’ jukebox musical called Disco Inferno. While I flitted between small roles as an announcer and a priest, I looked on as the lead attempted to blow our minds with a cover of “Starman.” That was my first experience of Bowie: a tribute, although admittedly by someone with a perfectly capable voice, but nothing like the real thing. After rehearsals I dug out The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars just to listen to that track, but by the end of that Thursday night I had listened to the whole thing from start to finish.

The weekend came and I was engrossed in Hunky Dory and Heroes, and was doing my best to learn “Starman” on guitar. Years later I was interning at the Liverpool music magazine Bido Lito!, and I remember scouring gig listings for new additions while Ziggy Stardust soundtracked our afternoon. Bowie had suddenly re-emerged a few weeks before at the start of 2013, banishing firmly anchored rumours of retirement, and music suddenly felt a lot more exciting. Just this weekend I was devouring Blackstar, rejoicing in the sheer versatility of its experimental jazz. And now it’s Monday, and he’s gone. Just like that.

It might seem a tad trivial for a tribute to commence with a few anecdotes, especially as I’ve only really been into Bowie for the last seven or eight years, but this morning’s news was surprisingly upsetting, considering that I never knew him in person. I guess it was even more shocking because we’re still reeling from the impact of Blackstar, and on listening to it again Bowie suddenly sounds even more fragile than I previously registered. For a record so intricately produced, it still exhibits a carefree nature, of not having to satisfy anyone but itself; a trump card for creativity, if anything.

But I wanted to share a handful of memories, like so many others are doing, because those details which have such a huge influence on our mind-set, our happiness, and our lives overall, are often taken for granted. “There’s a star man waiting in the sky,” Bowie first sang many years ago. “He’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds.” To say he did just that doesn’t quite do him justice; really, all you have to do is listen to his music. He was the man who fell to earth, gave us a gaggle of dazzling colourful characters, and highlighted the importance of creativity and integrity. More than anything, he showed us just what we are truly capable of.

“And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people,
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people,
I never thought I’d need so many people.”

David Bowie

1947-2016