The late David Bowie was well-known in his lifetime to be a passionate lover of art and a collector in his own right. He was even the co-author of an elaborate art-world hoax in the 1990s, publishing a book about entirely invented artist Nat Tate, launched at a party in Jeff Koons’ studio. He was sufficiently enmeshed by the contemporary art world to make fun of it. His passion for Postmodern painters like Basquiat is well known – he even played Basquiat’s mentor Andy Warhol in the film about his life. However his parallel obsession with Postmodern ‘Pop-Art’ furniture is less well know… until now.
A forthcoming auction of many pieces from Bowie’s art collection takes place at Sotheby’s later this year. The three-part auction features an eclectic selection of Modern and Postmodern art, including pieces by Damien Hirst, Henry Moore and Marcel Duchamp. However the final part – taking place on 11 November 2016 – is dedicated to his collection of Postmodern furniture, including iconic pieces by Ettorre Sottsass and the Milan-based Memphis Group.
Formed by Sottsass in 1981, the Memphis Group’s aesthetic was brash, bold and colourful, using chunky, even childish shapes in primary colours. Influenced by the Bauhaus movement, Pop Art, futuristic 50s kitsch and Art Deco, Memphis’ utterly distinctive look split opinion at the time and has been deeply unfashionable in our current pared-back era of Mid-century modern revivals and ‘good taste’. In recent years however the group have been enjoying a resurgence, as younger designers embrace the playful and progressive ideas of the group. Hip young brands have used key figures from the group too, like Nathalie du Pasquier’s fabric prints for HAY.
As ever then, Bowie has turned out to be ahead of the fashion curve, quietly curating his own Memphis collection while others overlooked their legacy. Pieces on display at Sotherby’s this November will include Peter Shire’s ‘Big Sur’ sofa from 1986 (above), Sottsass’s ‘Casablanca’ sideboard (below), a key part of the first ever Memphis collection in 1981 and now held at design museums worldwide.
Although images of Bowie’s own home are rare, we did manage to unearth this spread from GQ in 2012 where Bowie not only talks about his deliciously hot red Memphis table but also poses for a photograph on it too. The caption quotes Bowie as saying, “The table is by the peculiar Milanese design company Memphis and is probably made out of hardboard and old socks.”
Bowie/Collector – Part III: Post-Modernist Design takes place at Sotheby’s on 11 November 2016.