Chris Wadsworth
Percy Kelly - Looking East to the Ennerdale Fells
Writer and Art Consultant

15th November 2016

THE COLLECTOR

bids for Basquiat

Art was seriously the only thing I’d ever wanted to own. It has always been for me a stable nourishment. I use it. It can change the way I feel in the mornings

David Bowie

What makes a painting worth seven million pounds? What’s more who has got that amount of money to spend on Art?  Not me … I wish … or do I?

 As I watched the hammer go down  at almost  7 million pounds  on Air Power, a large  painting by black American one time graffiti artist Basquiat, who died in 1988 aged only 28,  at Sotheby’s on Thursday evening  after a heavy bout of bidding,  I wondered what I would buy  if  I had that big a sack of money to spend on art. It’s a dizzying thought which is a day dream  in the lives of most of us.  In the life of rock star David Bowie he could make that choice. Art was his passion.

When the heavy 3-volume catalogue of David Bowie’s personal art collection arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago I spent hours leafing through it wondering why he had chosen those particular pieces  when there was no financial limitation.  He collected Tintoretto and Picabia, Stanley Spencer and Marcel Duchamps, Damien Hirst and Gilbert and George. Why do we collect? Why do we want to possess rather than look?  Is art all about money? Is it about patronage? Bowie wasn’t buying for investment -  for him it was about pure enjoyment?

So I took myself off  to the auction at Sotheby’s in London to find out more. Entry was ticket only to serious collectors  and security was tight.

 Lost in a mist of champagne bubbles and posh canapés, I scoped the room while people took their places. As the silence of anticipation fell,  Ground control to Major Tom   rang out.  It was pure drama.  I have never seen so many staff ranged round the side of the room, poised to man all the  telephone bids. The atmosphere was tense as the first lot, a pot by Bernard Leach with an estimate of £5000 - £7000 made £32,500. Heck!  I was particularly interested in the second lot  -  a painting of St Ives Harbour  by Cumbrian artist Winifred Nicholson.  (We had a solo exhibition of  40 pieces of her work at the gallery in 2005 - the insurance gave me a headache) The pace of the bidding was very fast.  the auctioneer was dancing on his elevated platform jabbing the air like a boxer as bids came from the room, the phones as well as on line. In 5 seconds it had passed the estimate and 4 minutes  later set a new world record at £245000.

Damien Hist’s  Beautiful Hello; space Boy spin painting – a joint effort between him and Bowie fetched £785,000 and  a beautiful  anguished portrait of Auerbach’s  model fetched  almost £4 million as everyone cheered..

Bowie’s taste was eclectic but not random. He bought each piece for a particular reason ; passion, quality, narrative, circumstance. He has been described as the Duchamp of the Rock world because of his unusual and radical approach to art and life.

‘I quite like being misunderstood,’  he once wrote. ‘I was happy to be the Marcel Duchamp of Rock. I waved such a flag for Duchamp when I was a kid. He was everything because he said that art is dead. That was such a brave thing to say.

While I waited  for Part 2 of the sale to start the following morning, (it was late because the computors had crashed) Bowie songs, interviews  and videos were played until  Armistice silence fell  at 11.00 and  his very  faint ghostly voice could be heard  far away.  With his collection all around us, his presence was palpable.

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