Tag Archives: pop art

➤ Bowie’s taste in art: respectable, with bargains to be had at Sotheby’s auction

Damien Hirst, David Bowie, Sotheby's, auction, contemporary art,

Damien Hirst, Untitled Fish For David, 1995, est £40,000–60,000 – From the Young British Artist who preserved an adult tiger shark in a giant tank, this gift from Damien Hirst to David Bowie contains a tiny 2-inch fish in formaldehyde, as “a profound inquiry into human existence”. Here displayed at Sotheby’s London, reflecting and refracting other art in the saleroom. (Photography © Shapersofthe80s)

BEFORE THE AUCTION OF DAVID BOWIE’S ART at Sotheby’s, treat yourself to the free exhibition of 350 works owned by the pop star who died this year. His eclectic taste embraces pop art, Damien Hirst, German expressionism, Tintoretto, Surrealism, Contemporary African, a chess set by Man Ray, a couple of Duchamps, and much primary coloured contemporary furniture from Italy’s Memphis Group (which occupies much of Part 3 of the sale, dedicated to Design). The auction represents about half of Bowie’s entire art collection which he admitted to buying obsessively over 30 years. The evidence is that he had a sharp eye.

What’s surprising is the number of eminently collectable smaller items being offered at affordable prices which are bound to attract first-timers to next week’s three sales – all offering online bidding. Painted tabletop sculptures in aluminium by Ivor Abrahams are priced at a few hundred pounds, his bronze sculptures at perhaps £1,500. Ceramic plates decorated by Picasso and Cocteau are priced at just over a thousand and there’s even Sir Stanley Spencer’s artist’s palette for £2,000. Having toured the Bowie exhibition highlights to New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, Sotheby’s is geared up for long-distance bidding.

Click any pic below to enlarge and launch slideshow

The full set now on display makes an engaging and mischievous show, crammed with paintings and sculpture that may not be masterpieces, as the BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz has noted [video below], but by and large represent good examples from highly regarded artists. In light of which, many of Sotheby’s estimated starting prices seem temptingly low.

Frances Christie, head of its Modern & Post-War British Art Department, explained why they have to apply prevailing market prices: “It’s hard to quantify what the ‘Bowie effect’ might be. We have to take into account market precedents, so for example, the world record for Peter Lanyon’s work is £370k. The Lanyon painting Trevalgan in the sale is not as well known so we have priced it at about £250k, which I think is fair. The range of our estimates can only be a guide.”

“David was like a child, childish and childlike
when he came to see me in the studio and we made
a giant spin painting together” – Damien Hirst

Frances is pleased that as a collector Bowie favoured 20th-century British modernists and, with some prices starting in the low thousands, this sale might help spread the word abroad for names such as Gill, Wadsworth, Bomberg, Minton, Nevinson, Wyndham Lewis, Hitchens, Tunnard, Armitage, Chadwick, Kossoff, not forgetting Moore, Sutherland, Auerbach and Scott.

Gompertz remarked: “Bowie’s taste appears to have been fairly conservative but very specific. He liked the art that came from the same place as him: mid-20th-century UK. It is art that you could argue shared his philosophy, a philosophy that went on to shape his aesthetic. It is art that questioned, that was preoccupied with the surface, that had many sides; that never quite settled. Art that performed.”

Just totting up the top estimates for the 47 Modern and Contemporary works in Part 1 of Sotheby’s sale – which stars Francis Picabia, Damien Hirst, Patrick Caulfield and Jean-Michel Basquiat – could yield £11.6million. How the “Bowie premium” might inflate these auctioneer’s estimated prices is what promises to keep us on our toes throughout Thursday and Friday.

painting, David Bowie, Sotheby's, auction, contemporary art, Memphis Group, Paul Feiler

Bowie/Collector in a nutshell: Paul Feiler, Horizontal Blue + Sienna, 1960, oil on board, est £30,000–50,000. Right, painting by Ian McKever (est £3k), plus bronzes by Denis Mitchell (est from £5k), Memphis table by Sottsass (est £3k)

➢ The Bowie/Collector exhibition is free, unticketed and open to all at Sotheby’s, Bond Street, until noon on Thursday 10 Nov, 2016

➢ Potential buyers must register in advance for the three auctions. All offer ticketed admission to the saleroom, online bidding (BIDnow), absentee bidding or telephone bidding. Incidentally, the web catalogue contains much extra information about selected works, as well as condition reports for all.

➢ BBC arts editor Will Gompertz appraises David Bowie’s taste in art

➢ On video – Working with Bowie: an insight into an incredible mind, by his curators


1922–2011 ➤ Richard Hamilton: second thoughts about his definition of Pop Art

Swingeing London 67,Richard Hamilton,  Tate,Robert Fraser  ,Mick Jagger

Swingeing London, a great modern history painting from the Swinging 60s: in the back of a police car on their way to court Hamilton’s art dealer Robert Fraser and Rolling Stone Mick Jagger sit shielding their faces against the media glare. The image is based on a press photograph published in the Daily Sketch and the title is deliberately spelt with an E, referring to the judge’s pronouncement on the “swingeing sentence” he handed down as a deterrent after both were convicted on drugs charges. For many, this occasion typified the moral backlash against the liberalisation of the 1960s. (Above, detail from Swingeing London 67 (f) 1968-69, acrylic, collage and aluminium on canvas © Richard Hamilton, in the Tate collection)

❚ “ RICHARD HAMILTON, the most influential British artist of the 20th century, has died aged 89. In his long, productive life he created the most important and enduring works of any British modern painter… Hamilton has a serious claim to be the inventor of pop art… Driven by intellect and political belief, Hamilton created undying icons of the modern world.”
➢ Read Jonathan Jones at The Guardian online


“ Pop Art is:
Popular (designed for a mass audience)
Transient (short-term solution)
Expendable (easily forgotten)
Low cost
Mass produced
Young (aimed at youth)
Big Business ”

❏ His definition appeared as part of a long rumination on post-war art in a letter to Peter and Alison Smithson, published online at Warholstars.org, but taken from The Collected Words 1953–1982 by Richard Hamilton (Thames & Hudson 1982)


➢ John Tusa interviewed Hamilton for Radio 3 — Listen and read the transcript at the BBC website

Richard Hamilton, pop art , painter, John Tusa, interview

Hamilton: a lesson learnt from Warhol

TUSA:“Your definition hasn’t, as you said, stood the test of time because pop art as we now know it and as it became, has ended up being anything but transient, expendable and commercial. It’s been in a way co-opted by the systems and the commercialism of the fine-art world itself.”

HAMILTON: “When I made that list I thought what are the characteristics of what we call pop art, and then I listed them, big business and so on; the record system, Hollywood and all the other things. Then I looked at this list that I had made, which had nothing to do with fine art or anything that I was painting or doing and said, is there anything in this list which is incompatible with fine art? And my answer was no, except for one thing and I said, Expendable. Now, is fine art expendable? And I thought, no; I can’t quite stomach that. Everything else, OK, but expendability as a throwaway attitude is not something that can be acceptable as pop art, and I was proved wrong. Warhol approached art from the point of view of expendability, so I admire him enormously for having brought my attention to the fact that I was wrong.”


❏ Hamilton’s Swingeing London series of paintings and prints were his response to the arrest of his art dealer Robert Fraser and his imprisonment for the possession of heroin. This followed the now fabled police raid on a party at the Sussex farmhouse of Keith Richards, of the rock group the Rolling Stones, in February 1967. There they found evidence of the consumption of various drugs and in June, Fraser and Mick Jagger (the band’s lead singer) were found guilty of the possession of illegal drugs. This gave rise to the sarcastic newspaper headline “A strong sweet smell of incense” which Hamilton incorporated into a huge collage of the resulting newspaper cuttings which he titled Swingeing London 67 — Poster.
➢ Read Keith Richards’ account of this raid and the truth about the infamous Mars bar

❏ Video above: This Is Tomorrow (1992), clip from a C4 television documentary by Mark James in which the Father of Pop Art Richard Hamilton talks about his time as a tutor to pop star Bryan Ferry at Newcastle University art school