Bowie / Collector
“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. The same work can change me in different ways, depending on what I’m going through.”
- David Bowie
Last week we visited Sotheby’s ‘Bowie / Collector’ auction, prompted by our interest in the late musician’s Memphis Group collection. Bowie had been a keen collector of the postmodern design collective founded by Ettore Sottsass, and had amassed an extensive range of works by the group. One hundred original pieces, to be exact, from ostentatious armchairs to graphic porcelain homewares. Unsurprisingly the outlandish designs did not disappoint and the auction smashed all expectations. What was most unexpected was the breadth of Bowie’s collection. We were captivated by artworks from 20th Century British Art, Contemporary African Art, Outsider Art and Surrealism (to name only a few). It seemed evident that Bowie was not buying for investment purposes alone - instead he seemed to be spurred by a genuine interest. The collection was for him a source of inspiration, or as he is quoted “a stable nourishment”.
Collection of works by Michele de Lucchi: First chairs, Polar side tables and Flamingo side table.
Sotheby’s has produced two insightful interviews with art advisor Kate Chertavian and curator Beth Greenacre, both of whom worked closely with Bowie over extensive periods of time. They describe him as being inquisitive, highly informed and enthusiastic about art and design. Greenacre explains the scope of the collection saying “I always think about his collecting in a similar way to how his mind worked. So you could be sitting with David, you could have a conversation about a painting – all of a sudden you’d be talking about Nietzsche, which would then lead him to a new film release or book that I had to read, then back to another artist via Japanese folk art. There were all these beautiful networks between the works within his collection.” She then goes on to say “When people look at the collection as a whole, they’ll probably look at a few works and not quite understand why they are there. But then you’ll realise that X taught Y, or Z visited X. There are all these amazing associations and I think that’s how David worked.”
Radio-Phonograph Model No. RR126 by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni
We sell a broad range of furniture and lighting by many designers whose early works are now selling for high figures at auction. Twelve pieces in the Bowie / Collector lot by Michele de Lucchi from his decorative Memphis period were sold. The designer’s later mass produced Tolomeo lamp series for Artemide has been available at Aram Store since we opened in 2002. It remains a favourite range for architects and designers as well as for domestic use. Ettore Sottsass’ Casablanca sideboard sold for £68,000 at Sotheby’s. In 2015 Italian manufacturer Kartell produced a ‘Kartell goes Sottsass – A Tribute to Memphis’ collection, which revisited previously unreleased designs. From this range are the Colonna and Pilastro plastic table-stools that currently retail at £210 each.
Despite not having joined the group, Achille and Pier Castiglioni’s charming radio-phonograph machine was amongst the Bowie collection. The brothers - whose work varied from the organic Viscontea pendant lamp to the surreal Sella stool - were part of the same generation of forward-thinking Milanese creatives.
In total we stock products by six designers who for a slice of their long careers were involved with the Memphis Group. Highlighted below are some of their most interesting work, as well as our standout pieces from Bowie / Collector.
Continental side table by Michele de Lucchi
Javier Mariscal’s cover for The Art Book (Phaidon)