"[David Bowie] used his art to understand his place in the world," says curator Beth Greenacre in an exclusive Rolling Stone video promoting Bowie/Collector, an exhibition and auction of the late musician's enormous art collection. "He was an amazing historian. He was always looking backward to understand the present – and even propheised about the future, I think."
On Tuesday, Sotheby's in London unveiled Bowie's personal art collection of around 350 works as part of a 10-day exhibition. An auction will follow on the 10th and 11th. In the promo clip, Greenacre, who worked as Bowie's art curator from 2000 until his 2016 death, marvels at the man's multi-faceted brain.
"I've never met a mind like David's," she says. "I always think about his collecting in a similar way to the way his mind worked. So you could be sitting with David, and you could have a conversation about a painting, and all of the sudden you'd be talking about Nietzsche, which would then lead him to a new film release or a book that I have to read, then back to another artist via Japanese folk art. There were all these beautiful networks between the works within his collection."
The clip showcases many of the pieces in Bowie's collection, including Frank Auerbach's 1965 painting "Head of Gerda Boehm" – one that particularly affected the musician's moods.
"He lived with that painting, and he loved that painting," Greenacre says. "He famously talked about it as being able to change the way he felt in the morning. So if he was feeling a little down then he could look at the painting and it would exaggerate his existential angst; however, if he was feeling buoyant, he could look at it and go, 'Hell yes! I want to sound the way that painting looks.'"
In another clip, Kate Chertavian, Bowie's curator from 1992 to 2000, focuses on Bowie's enthusiasm for British art.
"The first time I met him, we had this engaged conversation about modern British pictures," she reflects. "And he was so enthusiastic about the field that I ran home and dumped my entire, rather small, library into two boxes and drove it straight back to the hotel. And by the end of the weekend, I think he'd read every book."
Chertavian says Bowie was a true student of art – and was particularly engaged by the the "hands-on material use" of Fifties/Sixties British sculpture.
"You could see this is a man who had an affinity for both the ordinary and also the extraordinary," she says. "But he would never look for the extraordinary in fashionable places."
"As a collector, Bowie looked for artists with whom he felt some connection, and for works that had the power to move or inspire him," Simon Hucker, Senior Specialist in Modern & Post-War British Art at Sotheby's, said in a statement. "This is what led him to British art of the early and mid-20th century in particular, which, of course, also led him home.”
While Bowie's collection focused on modern and contemporary British art, the auction will also include his affinity for contemporary African art, surrealism and outsider art.