The late George Michael, or more formally, Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, was a far more layered, complex artist than his Eighties’ Brit-pop roots would suggest when he died in 2016 at a premature 53 , although his enormous sales of 115-million-plus records — 25 million of which were from his first solo album, Faith — certainly do cement his pop-god status. Openly bisexual, then openly gay, and a relentless, lifelong philanthropist and art collector, at the peak of his fame he began to amass a world-class art collection of his luminous art-world contemporaries, the so-called Young British Art movement, including major works by Bridget Riley, Tracy Emin, and that perennial bad-boy of the YBA generation, Damien “Mr. Formaldehyde” Hirst. Michael did not send emissaries; rather, he went on studio visits. He commissioned a portrait from neo-Young-British-Artist Michael Craig-Martin. He was a smart, well-read, cutting edge collector with appetite.
All of which explains the decision by the executors of his estate to pull the art out of his many houses and consign it to the auction block in the service of some of the charities the singer supported throughout the success he enjoyed in his life. George Michael was an original supporter and architect of Band-Aid in 1984, and he never stopped tithing and giving. Limning the many global tours the singer himself made, no less an esteemed house than Christie’s has the art currently on tour, opening in New York last week, then moving for the coming six weeks through Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, before returning to London to go under the hammer in mid-March.
As many collections reflect their authors, so the Michael collection is an expression of the singer’s own ferociously lively, creative, witty — if a bit bleak — British eye and palate. It’s not an accident that the collection is returning to be sold in London. We will do well to remember the early-Nineties in Great Britain, just coming out from under the true grimness of the Thatcher years, a Britain in which the angry young women and men of the Young British Art movement certainly had something to say about their elders’ social and fiscal policies, and their effect on the country at large.
Smartly, the Christie’s curators have split the auction in two — the approximately 75 major works will be the subject of an evening auction in London, on March 14. The remaining 130-plus smaller works will be placed in an online auction in the week between March 8 and March 15.