Sotheby’s Spread the Ziggy Stardust at Bowie Sale


Beautiful, hallo, space-boy, a spin painting which David Bowie created with Damien Hirst in 1995. As a general rule, these have fallen in value since pre-crash 2007 but it tripled its estimate to bring £785,000 at Sotheby’s.

Delivering the Sizzle

They call it ‘the sizzle’ – the dramatic music, moving pictures and dimmed lights that have become the norm in advance of a high-profile sale at Sotheby’s. Anything to get the audience in the mood to spend.

The sizzle for the Bowie: Collector sale conducted in London across three sessions on November 11-12 was one of the best yet – a video proclaiming the great man’s love of art with no shortage of backing tunes to pick from. Rarely had the Sotheby’s marketing engine been revved harder than it was for this moment – and the sale lived up to the hype.

Record Setting Attendance

The numbers speak for themselves. Some 51,470 visitors attended the pre-sale exhibition (a record for any London view), the trio of sales were attended by over 1,750 bidders while over 26,500 watched online. With estimates often proving an irrelevance, it took over 12 hours to sell every one of the 356 lots. It won’t be Sotheby’s biggest sale of the year – the total of £32.9m was less than the $50m (£40m) Edvard Munch’s Girls on Bridge achieved single-handedly by in New York the following week – but in terms of exposure, marketing and positive PR this was a masterclass.

Record Setting Prices

There were record prices for more than half of the artists included in the sale – sums that reflected both some well-chosen works and a large sprinkling of Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie had been particularly active in the art market in the 1990s – buying from the London dealer Bernard Jacobson and a regular at auctions of Modern British art with his art advisor Kate Chertavian. He would occasionally bid big for something he liked, paying a muscular £111,500 in 1994 for Interior (Mrs Mounter), 1917, a wartime domestic scene by the Camden Town School artist Harold Gilman. Two decades later, it is a record-holder again, selling at £485,000.


Frank Auerbach’s impasto oil Head of Gerda Boehm (1965), bought by David Bowie for £54,300 in 1995, reached a record £3.8m

In 1995 Bowie, had paid a prescient £54,300 for Frank Auerbach’s impasto oil Head of Gerda Boehm (1965) – a work about which he later said: “My God, yeah! I want to sound like that looks.” Auerbach’s saleroom currency has risen markedly in the past ten years. Six bidders competed the lot to £3.8m – surpassing the previous high of £2.32m for Primrose Hill, Summer sold in the same rooms in 2014.

The St Ives painters, represented by 35 works and a dozen artists, were a major focal point in Bowie’s eclectic collection. Witness, one of seven works by Peter Lanyon and the cover lot of the sale, achieved a record £797,000 while Winifred Nicholson’s 1928 oil and pencil view of the Cornish harbour town, last sold at Christie’s South Kensington in 1994, took £245,000.

Basquiat on Top

As expected, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1984 5ft 6in high oil Air Power was the top lot. Eight bidders drove the work to £7.1m (estimate £2.5-3.5m). The intro was making its fourth appearance at auctioning three decades: Bowie had played the role of Andy Warhol in the 1996 film Basquiat around the time he purchased the work at Christie’s in London for £78,500.


Ettore Sottsass’ 1981 Carlton wood and laminated plastic room divider sold at £52,500

Decorative Arts Deliver

The Bowie factor was easiest to quantify in the session devoted to decorative arts and, in particular, the designs of the Austrian architect Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group. These are not too difficult to find on an international market and, in fact, the last version of Memphis’ 1981 Carlton technicolour wood and laminated plastic room dividers to come for sale at auction in London (at Bonhams in 2015) had tanked at £5,000-7,000. David Bowie’s example, carried the same expectations but had no trouble selling at £52,500.


David Bowie’s record player, a Brionvega RR-266 Radiofonografo designed by Pier Giamcomo and Achille Castiglione c.1969 sold for £257,000

There was huge competition too for Pier Giamcomo and Achille Castiglione’s turntable and radio designed for Brionvega of Milian c.1969. Playfully arranged with the knobs and dials forming a face, this is justifiably considered a design classic, but what price David Bowie’s personal record player? Proving rather more desirable than the £800-1,200 estimate might have suggested, it was hammered down at £257,000.


The David Bowie sale in numbers

Part I: Modern and Contemporary Art, Evening Auction: £24.3m

Estimate: £8.1-11.7m (47 lots, sale lasted two hours)

Part II: Modern and Contemporary Art, Day Sale: £7.2m

Estimate: £1.7-2.5m (209 lots, sale lasted seven hours)

Part III: Design: Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group: £1.4m

Estimate: £77,070-117,020 (100 lots, sale lasted 3.5 hours)

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About the Author:

Roland Arkell is the Contributing Editor at ATG Media. For almost two decades, Roland has been writing about the British and international art and antiques market for Antiques Trade Gazette, the leading publication for serious buyers and sellers of art and antiques.