Photos: See rocker David Bowie’s playful furnishings before they’re auctioned off

It seems rather fitting that David Bowie, who died earlier this year, should have been a savvy collector of exceptional pieces from the Memphis Group, the cutting-edge Italian movement known for its colorful, futuristic designs.

Born out of boredom with the minimalism of the 1970s, Memphis’ wild shapes and flamboyant forms mirror the rock icon’s flashy alter egos, notably Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. On Nov. 11, in the third and final session of its Bowie auction (the first two for art), Sotheby’s London will offer approximately 100 Memphis furnishings from his personal collection, including several pieces by Ettore Sottsass, the famed architect and industrial design maestro.

The auction takes place in London, but buyers can participate online. Online bidders must register 24 hours in advance and are subject to Sotheby’s approval.


“David Bowie was very aware of Memphis from the group’s very beginnings and began collecting it in the 1990s,” says Adam Trunoske, specialist in 20th century design at Sotheby’s London. “Memphis is playful, irreverent and cutting-edge, and the pieces in the sale make a wonderful comparison with some of the fine art works he also collected. We can see his attraction to pieces that were outside the norm, and this incredible collection of design reflects that.”

Highlights of the auction include a multi-hued Big Sur sofa by Peter Shire, a tilted Colorado teapot by Marco Zanini and rare Sottsass pieces like a Tartar table and Carlton room divider.

“I love how the choice of such bold colors tricks the eye into thinking that the diagonal lines aren’t parallel,” says Trunoske of the Carlton piece. “Bowie himself once explained the effect of these pieces, saying, ‘Even now, the jolt, the impact created by walking into a room containing a cabinet by Memphis is visceral.’ ”

One of the sale’s most highly anticipated items is a huge record player created by brothers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni in 1966. “It was designed as a kind of ‘musical pet’ — as well as being completely detachable, the speakers can be hooked on top or on the side like ears, and the control dials form a face,” says Trunoske. “This one was modified to allow Bowie to digitize rare vinyl records.”

While prices are currently estimated anywhere from $75 for a piece of glassware to $8,500 for a bookcase, given Bowie’s reputation as a sage art connoisseur, might those climb quite a bit higher?

“Prices vary as with all markets, but I do think think the Memphis group’s historical importance is now becoming fully recognized,” Trunoske says. “We haven’t put a ‘Bowie factor’ on the estimates, as Memphis design was intended to be accessible, so we’ll have to see what happens during the sale!”