David Bowie’s art from Ontario landfill sets auction record of $ 50,000, but some locals are not happy with the fame
A David Bowie painting that was purchased from a northern Ontario landfill donation center for $ 5 set a world record for the late British musician’s work at over $ 50,000, with a week before the end of auction.
Friday noon, the offer for XLVI HEAD was $ 50,100 CAD, and the auction is scheduled to close on June 24. The previous record of US $ 27,500 (approximately C $ 34,000) was for a work by Bowie at a Christie’s auction in 2018.
The painting was collected from a donation center at the Machar Township landfill, just outside the town of South River. The rare find turns out to be a gold mine for the owner, whose identity has not been made public but also worries some local residents.
Rob Cowley, chairman of Cowley Abbott, the Toronto-based group that runs the auction, said the small painting – measuring eight by 25 centimeters – has gained international attention since it went on sale Tuesday, in part because of interest in how the work was discovered.
“I think the story behind the painting certainly plays a role,” Cowley told CBC Sudbury. “However, the painting itself is a beautiful portrait, in my opinion, and obviously in the opinion of others as well.”
The unlikely find sparked a lot of interest in Bowie’s works and a lot of buzz around this particular auction, he said.
“It’s amazing for us to see how many people find out that David Bowie was a visual artist,” Cowley added.
The iconic singer rose to fame as an artist
Bowie, born January 8, 1947, was known for his albums including The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spiders of Mars, Aladdin Sané, Let’s dance and Grammy winner Black Star, released two days before his death in 2016.
In addition to being an artist himself, he was a renowned art collector.
In the mid-1990s, Bowie painted a series of “semi-abstracts” HEAD works, Cowley said.
“Having such an accessible and universal story when it relates to such an iconic figure… makes it very accessible to the general public, to many people who wouldn’t necessarily pay attention to the fine art world or the auction world.
“It just creates a larger audience for us to discuss our work as well, which is, of course, very rewarding.”
We may never know how the painting got to a landfill about 300 kilometers north of Toronto, Cowley said.
“It’s impossible to know if this was a house cleaning, real estate situation or whatever. But we do know that the painting was sold on an official David Bowie site in 2001 or 2002.”
By this time, Cowley said, the painting had been purchased for 2,300 pounds (approximately C $ 4,000).
“But we have no idea who bought it, or where it ended up, if it came to Canada at the time or if it passed through the hands of three owners, as long as we know.
“But that at least gives us a starting point in terms of its story.”
A trip to Machar Mall
Johnny Kirschner, coordinator of the Machar landfill, said he and his colleagues didn’t think much about the painting when it arrived at the site.
“We never thought of anything special,” he said. “We cleaned it up, put it against the wall and didn’t think about it.”
People who drop off materials at the landfill may leave things that are still useful. The items are displayed along a wall outside the landfill office. For a small donation, anyone can take as much as they want.
Locals call it the Machar Mall.
“It didn’t grab my attention, but it grabbed someone else’s,” Kirschner said.
He said he wasn’t going to guess where the paint came from, but many visitors to the landfill are cleaning parents’ cottages or preparing older homes for sale.
“That’s a lot of what we’re getting here,” he said. “Lots of old people die and then their kids come in and just want to clean it up and put the house up for sale or take it back or whatever.
“Who knows, with the elderly here, what they have and what they don’t have.”
In search of a treasure
While the landfill is generally stable with traffic, Kirschner said many people seem to be looking for the next treasure and there is increased interest in what is available in the mall.
This is an opportunity for the landfill team to have a little fun with the people who also drop off their waste.
“People will find something like a chair, and we’ll say, ‘Oh, did David Bowie sit in there?’
But the increase in traffic does not suit some of the locals.
Fred Disomma, operator of the Eagle Lake Country Store, said some cottage owners and year-round residents are concerned about how the painting ended up in the small community.
He also encountered a few curious people looking for the next big find at the landfill.
It would be nice if some of the money from the auction was donated to the community, or to give something back to the area.– Fred Disomma, operator of Eagle Lake Country Store
“We’ve had a few calls from people who worry us, hoping that doesn’t lead to an increase in the number of people hoping to find treasures,” Disomma said.
“Machar township is like a hidden gem,” he said. “You know, [locals] I just don’t want to be in the spotlight. “
Disomma said the news of Bowie’s painting to tens of thousands was a bit disturbing.
“I guess like everyone else, I was just curious about the origins of painting, and a little sad because I thought it was probably from the sale of a place, and someone didn’t know not what it was and threw it all away. “
He also hopes that the sender of the painting will remember the community after the auction is over.
“It would be nice if some of the money from the auction was donated to the community, or to give something back to the area.”
Still, Disomma said he didn’t want to appear as though he was bitter about the discovery.
“I guess from a business point of view I probably shouldn’t be complaining because there might be an increase in traffic,” he said.
“But at the same time, we’re pretty happy without all this attention.”