The late, great David Bowie left behind an art collection vast enough (some 400 items) to warrant 3 separate auctions—Sotheby’s Bowie/Collector auction takes place over 2 days this November—the last of which will feature Bowie’s collection of modern design. While the singer’s art acquisitions are, unsurprisingly, an eclectic collection of 20th Century works—paintings, prints, drawings, and sculpture that Sotheby’s defines as “truly breathtaking in its scope and diversity, encompassing all the major art movements of the period.”—his design pieces focus predominantly on the Memphis Group, the Milanese Post Modern design movement founded in 1981 by the Italian architect and product designer Ettore Sottsass.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by this either. Though a serious and erudite artist, Bowie managed to nevertheless come off as someone who didn’t take himself all that seriously—an attitude one could fairly say was mirrored by Memphis. Bordering on kitsch, the collective’s colorful, cartoonish objects invited as much derision as adoration, shunned by proponents of restraint and elegance who forever lumped Memphis with myriad other dated creative expressions of the 1980’s. Bowie, though, ever marching to the beat of his own drummer, was a great admirer of Sottsass and his fellow Memphis members, and his collection illustrates this, comprising the movement’s most famous pieces—like Sottsass’ now-iconic Carlton Bookcase, above.
“Bowie was a voracious collector of the works of eccentric Italian designer Ettore Sottsass and the Milan-based Memphis group,” explains Sotheby’s. “The final session of the sale series will comprise pieces such as the iconic Post-Modernist ‘Casablanca’ Sideboard, from the first Memphis collection of 1981, and the unconventional record player, the RR 126 Radiophonograph, designed in 1965 by the brothers Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni for Brionvega, both of which are definitive pieces of cutting edge Italian design fitting for the most innovative and daring musician of his generation.”