A double success story?
The story might go like this: an English pop singer from a modest background becomes a global superstar and buys and supports visual artists, also from modest backgrounds, who found fame around the same time as him: the rather provocative and unruly Young British Artists (YBA).
Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and many others were young back then and not yet disillusioned.
This is the double success story being sold at auction by Christie’s in London on 14 March.
Donated to charity
But things seem to be more complicated than that.
The singer of hit songs like “Freedom” and “Careless Whisper” died at the age of 53 on 25 December 2017.
His collection is estimated at 6 million pounds for 61 lots, plus an online only sale.
According to Christian Albu, the sale expert at Christie’s, “all these works were acquired between 2005 and 2008.
The ensemble has been put up for sale by the star’s two sisters and in accordance with his will all the proceeds shall be donated to charity.”
With Kenny Goss
At the time of the collection’s creation, George Michael was in a relationship with Kenny Goss.
They were apparently together for 13 years and when the romance ended in 2009 the acquisitions also dried up.
The then-couple jointly set up a foundation in Dallas in 2007 which still exists (1) and presents itself as “one of the leading collections of English contemporary art in the United States”.
Christian Albu explains that the group of artworks put up for sale is completely separate from the foundation and had been kept in his various houses in London, the English countryside and Los Angeles.
Strangely there was no one, neither Kenny Goss, nor a representative of the estate, nor anyone close to George Michael at the time, who wanted to give a statement on the tastes of the collector whose interest in art seems to have halted so abruptly.
George Michael passion for art
Evidently George Michael’s passion for the Young British Artists movement, and therefore for art in general, was only a brief, almost incidental episode in a hectic life.
But it’s not an invention, despite the revelation from London gallerist Sadie Coles that “George Michael lived fairly reclusively, and it was often his partner Kenny Goss who bought on his behalf. But he would sometimes come to the gallery”.
Charming and irreverent
She adds, “I remember that in 2006 he visited the Frieze fair in London. At my booth he was interested in a sculpture by Sarah Lucas. Around that time he was already friends with Tracey Emin.
He was a charming, irreverent man, animated by a keen sense of humour.”
The Young British Artists
The Young British Artists movement led by Damien Hirst, which brought together former students from Goldsmiths college, was, when it started, championed from 1992 by the collector Charles Saatchi.
In 2005, at the time of the pop star’s initial purchases, their output was still at its zenith in terms of prices.
But in September 2008 the rousing success of the auction orchestrated by Damien Hirst in collaboration with Sotheby’s, which sold for 200 million dollars, also spelled the end for the rising ratings of the artists who made up this movement.
The George Michael sale will evidently enjoy a certain premium due to the “pop pedigree” of the objects, but it still allows us to consider the market status for all the old YBAs.
Christian Albu emphasizes that the estimates don’t take provenance into account.
The catalogue contains six works by Damien Hirst (born in 1965) including “Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain” from 2007 consisting of a cow submerged in a chemical solution and shot through with arrows bought at the White Cube gallery in London that same year ( estimated: 1,2 million euros)
“I was brought up Catholic till I was 12 so I’ve got a lot of that imagery locked inside my head,” explains the artist.
Although the market for Hirst has considerably shrunk in recent years, the expert at Christie’s seeks to confirm its dynamism: “He’s a great artist who will be remembered. Good pieces of good provenance always make for good prices but there was a readjustment in 2009”.
We know that Hirst has produced a lot, and according to the Artprice database 100 dollars invested in a Damien Hirst work in 2000 was worth on average 51 dollars in 2018.
George Michael was very close to Tracey Emin (born in 1963) who even stayed with him for a while in London.
The sale contains 10 of her works, which address and document, as always, intimacy, passion and disenchantment, like a blanket from 2002 across which is written, “Drunk to the bottom of my soul”, estimated at 210,000 euros. The White Cube gallery in London is exhibiting her recent work until 7 April (2). 95% of the exhibition has been sold for prices ranging from 19,000 to 600,000 pounds.
Among the stars of the YBAs who feature in the sale and whose longevity seems to be assured, there is also Sarah Lucas (born in 1962) who was the subject of a remarkable exhibition at the New Museum in New York which is travelling to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles from 9 June. One of her photos depicting her in her studio wearing a t-shirt which reads “Selfish in bed” from 2000 is estimated at 5700 euros. “I like to play around with gender stereotypes. And I like androgyny,” she says.
George Michael, a gay icon and activist for the LGBT cause, could no doubt relate to her ideas.
(1) www.g-mf.org (1)
The Goss-Michael Foundation is organizing a gala on 29 March in Dallas with Rita Ora and an auction in collaboration with MTV where the proceeds will support the fight against AIDS. Simon de Pury will be wielding the hammer.
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