Arts and culture


South African art part of the David Bowie collection

The impressive art collection owned by musician, songwriter, actor and writer David Bowie was sold on auction at Sotheby’s, London in mid-November 2016. The collection of more than 300 sought-after works included a number of pieces by African and South African artists. The collection sold for £24.3-million, or R424.37- million.

Bowie, who died on 10 January 2016, was renowned not only for his music and film work, but also as a dedicated patron of the arts. His notable art collection, accumulated over 40 years, featured examples of some of the world's best modern works.

A love of African art

His fondness stretched beyond post-modern outsider art – including US trailblazer Jean-Michel Basquiat and English art provocateur Damien Hirst – and influential post-war British painters such as figurative painter Frank Auerbach. Bowie also collected numerous contemporary African art pieces, including work by South African artists. He developed a great love of and enthusiasm for Africa and its artists during an extended visit to the continent in the late 1990s, which included visits to Kenya, Benin and South Africa.

In an 1995 essay for Modern Painters magazine, Bowie wrote enthusiastically about his love of African art, describing the artists he met as having "only one common thread: an unquenched thirst for national- and self- understanding".

A visit to a wide-ranging exhibition of African artists at the Johannesburg Biennale during this time, Bowie described "as mind-jarringly moving as any major art-thing I’ve seen, East, West or Middle, in any year".

He went on to champion the continent's artists with a number of exhibitions of his ever-growing collection in New York and London, hoping to "challenge our preconceptions of otherness and establish African art as being some of the most tantalising and provocative work to be seen".

Bowie presented his first solo exhibition of art influenced by his relationship with African artists in London in 1996, which included a critically acclaimed collaboration with South African artist Beezy Bailey.

He had hoped that by using his influence to bring African art to an international audience, art lovers could bypass the often clichéd categorisation of African art as artefact, curio and low brow, and give it its rightful significance in the global cultural experience.

African artists in the David Bowie collection

Artists Norman Catherine, David Koloane, Peter Bongani Shange, Percy Konqobe, Willie Bester and Penny Siopis represented the continent in the Bowie collection. Following the auction, Sotherby's said that the South African art drew almost 10 times its presale estimate, setting new international records for five of the local artists.

Three of Catherine's pieces, Fanagalo Store, Cat Man and Back Chat II, were sold for more than R2-million combined.

Catherine, a former Walter Batiss collaborator, is one of South Africa's most popular contemporary artists, specialising in canvases, sculpture and mixed media. Speaking to TimesLive following the sale, the artist said he was surprised at the prices his relatively smaller pieces reached.

Yet he thought the R1.4-million price for Fanagalo Store, a six- shelf mixed media presentation of numerous African-inspired figurines and one of Catherine's favourite pieces, was a worthy value for such a special piece. Bowie bought it directly from Catherine during a visit to the artist's home gallery, Fook Manor, near Hartbeespoort Dam outside Pretoria in 1995.

Other South African works included in the auction were Willie Bester's What Happened in the Western Cape? sold for R358,000, and two of Peter Bongani Shange's bronze Mayibuye Head sculptures, which sold for R292,000 each.

The powerful mixed media portrait South African Postcard II by Cape Town painter Penny Siopis fetched almost double what was expected before the auction, selling for almost R180,000.

International pieces in the David Bowie collection

The highest-selling item in the collection was the graffiti-inspired Air Power canvas by Basquiat, which sold for $8.9-million (R123-million).

Bowie's own 1995 collaboration with Damien Hirst, the kaleidoscopic Beautiful, Hallo Space-Boy, sold for $98,000 (R13-million).

Watch a full tour of the Sotheby's exhibition:

Source: TimesLIVE

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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