A 1984 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, titled Air Power, was the most expensive of the night, selling for nearly £7.1m including premium – double the pre-sale upper estimate of £3.5m. Another Basquiat work, Untitled, sold for nearly £2.4m, more than three times its £700,000 upper estimate.
The only work by Bowie himself to go on sale in this first batch was Beautiful, Hallo, Space-boy Painting, an allusion to the astronaut character Major Tom, a recurring presence in Bowie’s songs. The painting, which he produced with Damien Hirst, sold for £785,000.
The auction hall in Sotheby’s London offices was packed for Thursday night’s sale, the first of three that Sotheby’s said will offer about 400 lots from Bowie’s personal collection.
At one point the audience was held in suspense as bidding for Air Power reached £5.5m and a phone bidder said he needed to call his wife before deciding whether to go any higher. The anonymous bidder went to £5.8m but was unsuccessful.
The first two sales at Sotheby’s, including Thursday’s 47-lot sale and a day sale on Friday, focus on Bowie’s modern and contemporary art pieces. The third, which will also be on Friday, will include pieces by the designer Ettore Sottsass and other members of Italy’s Memphis group.
The second most expensive work was Frank Auerbach’s Head of Gerda Boehm,which fetched almost £3.8m – about £3.3m more than was expected. Speaking to the New York Times in 1998 about his admiration for Auerbach, Bowie said: “I think there are some mornings that if we hit each other a certain way – myself and a portrait by Auerbach – the work can magnify the kind of depression I’m going through. It will give spiritual weight to my angst.”
The proceeds of the sale will go to Bowie’s estate, which together with Sotheby’s spent several months putting the auction together, a spokeswoman for the auction house told Agence France-Presse.
“David’s art collection was fuelled by personal interest and compiled out of passion. He always sought and encouraged loans from the collection and enjoyed sharing the works in his custody,” said a spokesperson for the estate. “Though his family are keeping certain pieces of particular personal significance, it is now time to give others the opportunity to appreciate – and acquire – the art and objects he so admired.”
Bowie, who died from cancer aged 69 in January, was an avid art collector and used to go to auctions, before buying more discreetly. He also served on the editorial board of the magazine Modern Painters during the 1990s.
“He would interview artists that he thought were good, but on the whole he was very private about his art collecting,” said Simon Hucker, senior specialist in modern and post-war British art at Sotheby’s, speaking before the auction.
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