2019 ➤ George Michael’s art for sale: funky, X-rated and naughty as you’d expect

Antony Gormley, Christie’s London, auction, art, George Michael, sex,

Visitor posing at Christie’s London beside George Michael backdrop – at right, Another Time III (2007), cast iron statue by Antony Gormley

PARENTS BEWARE! The extraordinary exhibition of singer George Michael’s art collection currently showing in London would in any other medium be X-rated, yet at Christie’s the auctioneers it comes without any parental PG warning despite displaying images of rats copulating and a team game between naked men ejaculating. It delivers the highest genitalia count in auction-house memory: we see at least 40 penises, 27 vaginas and photographs of 108 positions of the “Karmasutra” enacted by a rubber-clad woman and a garden gnome. These are extraordinary counts for a show numbering 174 artworks. They go under the hammer this week in two auctions.

The penises, let’s hasten to add, are not George’s own. The biggest and probably most prestigious penis on show is attached to Lot No 1, cast in iron and belonging to Antony Gormley, Britain’s most respected living sculptor, famed for casting himself life-sized and naked, here under the title Another Time III (upper estimate £250,000). Another set of male genitalia is confected with typical bawdiness by Sarah Lucas from coiled wire, appropriately titled O Nob (est £25,000).

Other contributors to the penis count in Thursday’s prestigious evening sale include, inevitably, Gilbert & George, the Chapman brothers and Sam Taylor-Johnson, who are all trumped by a clutch of dildos in Tim Noble & Sue Webster’s Dirty Narcissus sculpture in silicone rubber.

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Running simultaneously is Christie’s larger online auction which ends on Friday, where Tracey Emin is a major contender by offering many scribbled vaginas but is beaten hands-down by the artist named only as Linder, a Liverpudlian graphic designer known for her radical feminist photomontages, here offering a gallery of naked Pretty Girls.

Some would say George Michael’s collection of art reflects fairly his obsession with sex and death (the skull count is notable, too). In addition to a soundtrack of his music, the exhibition’s loudspeakers beam out audio clips of George freely eff-wording and describing his sexual proclivities at high volume in every gallery, all in the best possible taste, as Kenny Everett would have said.

By the time we’ve taken in the many shiny works of “art” involving much glitz and a lot of tat, The George Michael Collection must be one of the most tacky shows to have been hosted by a leading auctioneer for years.

Ouch! That sounds far too judgemental for the 21st century, doesn’t it? So let’s hear from his admirers, posted on the Christie’s website. The singer’s former partner Kenny Goss tells us that George started collecting art after meeting artists such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Marc Quinn and Michael Craig-Martin: “The art collection was part of him. The YBAs’ openness and honesty about life, death and sex were a huge part of his world.”

Sue Webster, who is well represented in the collection with collaborator Tim Noble, commented on the “sexual nature” of many of the works George Michael bought. “But it’s all got two sides to it, a darkness and a light – and George’s music worked on many levels like that, so I can see the attraction.”

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Photographer Mary McCartney believes the collection is quintessentially George Michael in that it consists of art that’s impossible to ignore. “He was very impactful,” she says of the man who had 15 number-one singles in Britain and America, and sold 125 million records over the course of his career. “[The collection] shows a lot of his character; there are a lot of brave pieces with an opinion.”

The critic Andrew Graham-Dixon concludes: “Traditionally there’s a very strong connection between British pop and Brit art. When the YBAs first came to prominence they did so almost like rock stars.” He goes further by suggesting that Tate Modern would not have opened had it not been for the YBA generation. “They transformed British culture,” he insists. Much as George Michael did with his music.

So – there’s the other side of the coin. Tit for tat.

➢ Results for The George Michael Collection Evening Auction, from 7pm on March 14

UPDATE: THE LIVE SALE NOTCHES £9,264,000

Tracey Emin, Christie’s London, auction, art, George Michael,

Neon heart by Tracey Emin, 2007: after competitive bidding, it realised £374,250

❏ Many George Michael fans were clearly bidding all round the world from Singapore to New York during Thursday’s live televised auction at Christie’s London of 61 works from the singer’s art collection, so for some items the bids were brisk and keen.

Four prominent Brits raised the highest six-figure sums: two iconic Damien Hirst formaldehyde works realised £911,250 and £875,250, while paintings by Bridget Riley and Cecily Brown fetched £791,250 each and the Antony Gormley sculpture £431,250.

The surprise sensations of the show were two pieces by Tracey Emin: her acrylic abstract painting on canvas Hurricane (2007, size 72 x 72in) was estimated by the auctioneer at £120k-180k and actually realised £431,250. . . and Tracey’s neon heart containing the message George Loves Kenny (2007, size 42x42in) which was estimated to be worth £40k-60k, yet after a suspenseful round of bidding finally realised £347,250 !

Another sensation was Noble & Webster’s Excessive Sensual Indulgence (1999), a dazzling, flashing array of 312 coloured UFO reflector caps, lamps and holders, which was estimated at £30k-50k, but went on to fetch £237,500.

Closing the two-hour sale, the final lot by former Blitz Kid Cerith Wyn Evans also exceeded expectations. An elegant wall-hanging neon sign titled And if I don’t meet you no more… (2006) had been estimated at £10k-15k, yet went for £68,750. Proceeds are going to extend the singer’s philanthropic legacy.

PLUS £2MILLION MORE ONLINE

❏ Update – Proceeds from Friday’s online auction of 111 items totalled £2,045,375. Probably the most impressive sum raised was for Harland Miller’s oil on large canvas Penguin book cover, “Death, What’s in it for Me?” which realised £212,500. A superb Aubusson tapestry titled Pallidweave (one in an edition of three) by Rupert Norfolk went for the absolute bargain price of £15,000.

➢ Results for The George Michael Collection
Online Auction, March 8–15

➢ Virtual tour online of the George Michael exhibition at Christie’s

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➤ A personal tale about the genius staring out from a painting expected to sell for £30m tonight

David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler, Christopher Scott, Photography, painting, auction, Christie's London,

Being auctioned tonight at Christie’s: Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott by David Hockney (1969, acrylic on canvas). Private collection. © David Hockney

THIS MESMERISING HUGE CANVAS TITLED Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott was painted by David Hockney in 1969 and is expected to sell at Christie’s tonight for at least £30million and today is the public’s last chance to view it until 4pm. It creates an intense dialogue between Hockney and his soulmate Henry, whose hairline is the picture’s vanishing point. By chance I got to know Henry in 1977, later stayed at his house in Greenwich Village and of course had to try-out the by then fabled pale mauve sofa pictured here.

We’d met during the best holiday of my life that summer at a house party hosted by the painter Teddy Millington-Drake at his vast 17th-century villa on Patmos, the Greek Island where St John had his apocalyptic Revelation. Two dozen guests, several with their kids, had arrived either like me on the weekly boat from Athens or on their own yachts (there were no direct flights to Patmos) for what proved to be a conclave of amusing, clever and influential movers and shakers from across the international art scene who utterly changed my understanding of life, the universe etcetera.

Henry himself, a three-in-one wit, wag and Svengali, undoubtedly changed the course of modern art by shifting its centre from Paris to New York, and affirmed the credibility of the term Pop Art. While only in his 30s he became the Metropolitan Museum’s first curator for 20th-century art and in 1969 mounted the landmark exhibition of 408 contemporary American works executed between 1940 and 1970 by artists he called “deflectors” of prevailing trends, such as Warhol, Gorky, Pollock, Rothko, Rauschenberg, Stella, Johns, Hopper. It was an immediate sensation. A new canon.

David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler, Christopher Scott, Irving Penn, Photography, painting, Andy Warhol

My photo of Henry Geldzahler in 1981: taking receipt of Irving Penn’s new portrait of him, in his NYC cultural commissioner’s office

I met Henry again in 1981 the very day he took receipt of a new portrait of him by photographer Irving Penn. I was in NYC that May during the First Blitz Invasion of the USA when I accompanied the 21 Blitz Kids who included the synth-led Spandau Ballet and Jon (Mole) Baker’s Axiom design collective who played a gig and staged a runway fashion show to introduce Manhattan to the new stars of Swinging London.

By then Henry had become New York’s first Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, appointed by the mayor Ed Koch. I visited his office at Columbus Circle and he played along when I suggested taking a souvenir snap so that my portrait of him cunningly captures him four times over: Henry in life reclining on his chaise, holding the Penn portrait, in the glass of which we see reflected the Warhol lithograph of him from 1979. Behind on an easel stands a further 1973 head-and-shoulders by Hockney (savagely cropped to maximise impact in this post).

Henry, who died in 1994, was described as the world’s “most powerful and controversial art curator”. He must also have been one of the most painted and photographed curators ever. “There are lots of pictures of Henry,” said Hockney. “He didn’t have many mirrors in his home. He knew what he looked like just by asking people to make portraits of him.”

David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler, Christopher Scott, art, painting,

Masterpiece of pictorial drama (detail): the central subject in Hockney’s painting of Geldzahler and Scott stares back, evaluating the painter’s every move. (My photo)

➢ Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott is Lot 8 in the sale An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection at Christie’s London, 6 March 2019, from 7pm. Update: the painting went in three minutes flat for £33million.

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➤ My own Rondo moment immortalised by Sullivan, the grand Wag of Soho

portrait painting,

Immortalised on canvas: Chris Sullivan’s portrait of the face behind Shapersofthe80s

ONE OF THE BRAVEST things I’ve ever done – apart from disagree with a newspaper editor – was to pose for my portrait, as mine is the kind of family who can’t boast even one ancestor committed to oil on canvas. So when Eighties uber-Wag Chris Sullivan offered to paint me in the style of one of his band Blue Rondo’s wittily cubistic 12-inch record sleeves, I jumped at the chance to look like any of those cool guys on Me And Mr Sanchez in 1981.

So here I am [up top] and the result is strangely hypnotic, if not actually cubistic – “More vorticist than anything else,” says Chris, though we agreed perhaps closer to the audacious David Bomberg’s later work and that suits me down to ground, a rebel 20th-century style that veers towards abstract and also hints at dynamism. Chris posted the portrait at Facebook and amazing numbers of people said he’d caught the eyes very well, and going by this photo that he took when he handed the canvas over to me last week, I am bound to agree!

Blue Rondo à la Turk, Chris Sullivan, artwork, sleeve,

The Sullivan style on a Blue Rondo sleeve from 1981, itself a convincing echo of Picasso’s Tres Musicos of 1921

How it came about was through his new book Rebel Rebel which comes out in April (after a gestation lasting about four years!). He invited friends to crowd-fund the project through Unbound Books and when I saw that the prize offered for the topmost pledge was a Rondo-esque portrait, I snapped it up (never forget Sullivan switched from fashion onto the fine-art course while at St Martin’s and turned out a lot of visual material right through the 1990s, quite apart from designing the dreamworld interior of his Wag Club in Soho).

We discussed all this and more when he asked me onto his Soho Radio show last month for nearly an hour and a half. Somewhere between Bowie’s TVC15 and Was Not Was’s Wheel Me Out, I dared to ask whether the approaching deadline for his book being published and finishing this portrait had provided a trigger for his recent return to painting and drawing. We’ve seen a sudden outpouring of witty caricatures of his friends in a mix of paint and pencil and ink flying around on the web. He almost agreed, saying: “It certainly got my chops together, put it that way. . . I’m not trying to be Rothko or Caravaggio, but I’ve always been a big fan of George Grosz and even Picasso did some caricatures.”

My A3-sized portrait is much more fully worked up in acrylic and crayon on canvas than Sullivan’s fun drawings on paper and even though he started chortling sarcastically when I said I’d wanted him to paint me not out of vanity but for love of Rondo, the fact is I’m chuffed to bits to own an image that makes a substantial statement about his talent. It certainly raises an eyebrow when friends come visiting.

JAWING on ART AT SOHO RADIO (@55 MINS)

Chris Sullivan, Sullivan’s Suits, Soho Radio, interview, DJ,

Chris Sullivan: spinning the discs on his show Sullivan’s Suits at Soho Radio while interviewing me on January 30. (Photo by Shapersofthe80s)


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➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Sullivan the wag changes hats at the touch of his paintbrush

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➤ Bowie TV trilogy triumphs thanks to candour and a few tears

David Bowie,pop music, TV documentary, review,

Bowie’s search for identity: the hippy look for the Hunky Dory sleeve 1971 and red-haired alien for Space Oddity 1972. (Photos by Brian Ward and Mick Rock)

WHAT AN EYE-OPENER! Nine failed bands in ten years of struggle before David Bowie emerged as a star. “He was no Marcel Marceau,” said his mentor and lover Lindsay Kemp of David’s attempts at mime. Saturday’s TV doc Bowie Finding Fame directed by Francis Whately was chock-full of jaw-droppingly frank evaluations by all his pals and workmates from his earliest days in music. Among the kindest was his girlfriend in 1968 Hermione Farthingale who said: “He was actually 21 and looked about eight. . . He wasn’t lost, but he wasn’t found either”. For 90 minutes Bowie’s own voiceover was disarmingly full of insight too and this episode, the third in Whately’s consummate trilogy for the BBC, proved probably the‬ most moving of all.

And today comes a thorough and informative appreciation of this the latest landmark documentary about Bowie’s early life in a review published by Andy Polaris, Eighties singer with Animal Nightlife, at his website APolarisView. As a fan utterly in thrall at a formative age to Bowie’s charisma, Andy brings personal insights to the final doc, which follows on from David Bowie: Five Years (2013) and The Last Five Years (2017), both being repeated live tonight from 11.15pm (despite the confusion in newspaper listings guides), and subsequently viewable on iPlayer.

Andy also adds further essential points of reference to the Bowie story omitted from the new biopic, possibly because, as its series consultant and Bowie chronicler Kevin Cann has explained this week, the production team ultimately had to exclude masses because of time limitations: “Sadly there are a few fabulous interviews we made that we couldn’t fit in – all important in their own way. . . At one point we had close on a three-hour edit. We were basically overwhelmed with options at times – and that’s exactly why future generations, I’m sure, will never be bored of this man’s immense talent. He will never cease to impress.” Another gem they discovered was the complete Russell Harty TV interview from 1973: “. . . the whole Bowie section, interview and song performances. Even though ITV erased their original master a year or two after original broadcast, the recording we have still belongs to them, so its immediate future is yet to be decided.”

➢ Meanwhile here’s an excerpt from Andy’s blog
APolarisView where he reviews Saturday’s superb doc,
Finding Fame, which starts in the mid-Sixties:

Swinging 80s, Andy Polaris,TV review, David Bowie Finding Fame,,singer,pop music,

Polaris: surprised

I came away admiring Bowie more as an artist due to his single-minded pursuit to achieve his goal and establish a career in the arts. Eleven years (which brought massive cultural changes generally) and nine different bands failed to launch his career. With such limited rewards most people would have fallen at the second or third hurdle and contemplated a different choice of career. A lot of the bands I had heard of, but the film surprised me by exhuming the music of Riot Squad (a name sounding more like a later oi/skinhead band) where he spent eight weeks as their singer in 1967.

Bowie learned quickly to jettison anyone or thing that stood in the way of his mission and made sure that he was front and centre of the action. Early associates talk of how he was the driving force behind stage performances, style and presentation and how to stand out from the crowd.

Whately’s biopic marks the first time I can remember hearing about the inspiration for Letter to Hermione (a beautiful song on Space Oddity) in a filmed interview where his former girlfriend talks candidly about their love affair and the aftermath of their break-up. In a rare moment of personal confession it reveals the crushing effect it had on David at the time and he wanted her to forever realise the hurt. . . / Continued at APolarisView

➢ Bonus clips at the BBC’s programme website:
Of the surplus footage researched for Finding Fame, Kevin Cann reports that My Death survives in full, as does the whole interview. As also does probably 90% of the 1970 Glastonbury set. “Just in case you haven’t seen them, here are some of the brief edits that came out along the way. There are many more and I hope, over time, more is made available.”

WHAT THE TV CRITICS SAID OF FINDING FAME

➢ “Whately arguably does get closer to who the flesh and blood David Jones really was than anyone has previously, largely thanks to securing interviews with an elusive cousin and a just as elusive first love” – The Arts Desk

➢ “Still think of Bowie as the last word in cool? You’ve obviously forgotten his novelty single about gnomes, his dire mime days… and his cover of Chim Chim Cher-ee” – Guardian TV review

➢ “The BBC’s ‘talent selection group’ had dismissed Bowie as ‘devoid of personality’ (ah, the irony). Yet Bowie doubled down and worked harder” – The Times review

➢ “One of the most miraculous things about Bowie is that he didn’t wind up as a drama teacher in Bromley” – Sunday Times Culture

➢ “Fascinating insight into the young singer’s quest for fame and his evolutionary struggle to burst out of suburbia” – The Telegraph review

➢ View David Bowie: Five Years (2013) at the iPlayer

➢ View David Bowie: The Last Five Years (2017) at the iPlayer

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➤ Thanks, Steve, for my invitation to the Swinging 80s

Blitz Kids, New Romantics, Observer Music Magazine, Derek Ridgers,Spandau Ballet, Steve Dagger, Steve Strange, Tipping points,London, Media, Politics, Pop music, Swinging 80s,,

The Observer Music Magazine, Oct 4, 2009. Pictures © by Derek Ridgers

MARKING THE FOURTH ANNIVERSARY
OF STEVE STRANGE’S DEATH

WHEN MY PHONE RANG IN JANUARY 1980, little did I realise its message meant: “Put out the cat. You’re coming to the party of your life.” The voice on the other end spoke without pausing: “My name’s Steve Strange and I run a club called the Blitz on Tuesdays and I’m starting a cabaret night on Thursdays with a really great new band…. they combine synthesised dance music for the future with vocals akin to Sinatra, they’re called Spandau Ballet and they’re going to be really big. . .”

➢ Click through to continue reading Yours Truly’s eye-witness account of Spandau Ballet, the Blitz Kids and the birth of the New Romantics at The Observer Music Magazine

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s:
The Invisible Hand of Shapersofthe80s draws a selective
timeline for the break-out year of 1980

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