How Keith Haring Acquired the Painting Sotheby’s Priced at Just $100
8 September 2020
David Bowes distinctly remembers the day he traded paintings with the iconic New York artist.
Andy Warhol, Portrait of Keith Haring and Juan DuBose (1983). Synthetic polymer silkscreen on canvas. 40 x 40 inches. The most highly valued lot at the Keith Haring Foundation auction. Courtesy Sotheby's.
One artwork stands out among the 140 lots in the Sotheby's auction Dear Keith: Works from the Personal Collection of Keith Haring. Alongside works by George Condo (US $12,000-18,000), Roy Lichtenstein ($50,000-70,000), Jean-Michel Basquiat ($100,000-150,000), and Andy Warhol ($200,000-250,000) is a David Bowes painting Sotheby's valued at just $100.
Bowes, whose work is in the collections of the Walker Art Centre and the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, described being mentioned in the New York Times as the creator of the lowest priced work in the auction as a 'pyrrhic distinction'. He said he emailed Sotheby's to see if the price was a typo.
Sotheby's told Bowes that they priced the work as part of a deliberate strategy to ignite competition among the maximum number of bidders, and works by artists such as George Condo and Yoko Ono were also priced under $1,000.
Bowes' story of how Haring acquired his work is alone worth more than the estimate.
'Keith and I were friends from the early '80s and we traded works in 1988. It was something we'd talked about doing for some time,' he told Ocula Magazine.
'Keith's studio was full of light the sunny day I brought the painting to him. On the floor were dozens of wonderful new works in black paint on white paper, organised row on row in a giant square. We looked at those and talked about them. He was just back from a stay in Paris and we talked about the different ways his time there showed up in his drawings.
'Keith liked my little painting [pictured below] and the way it seemed to rhyme in a funny way with one Brion Gysin had given him. He went and found that and we looked at the two together—similar in size with circle forms on a yellow ground. Keith asked what I'd like to have in exchange, and I asked if I could take one of the Paris drawings we'd been looking at.
'Instead, he took a sheaf of much larger works from a file drawer and went through them, beautiful things on fine, toned papers. I guess my eyes popped at one wickedly funny thing combining collage with parts drawn in vermillion and black Flashe vinyl paint.
' "Oh, you want that one", he said, catching my reaction.
' "It's fantastic", I said.
' "It's the best one I have, I think..." and despite some obvious regret and against my repeated objections, that's what he gave me.'
About the painting itself, Bowes recalled discovering the works of French symbolist painter Odilon Redon back in the '60s on one of his visits to New York museums with his older brother, Gerry, who he described as a talented artist and generous teacher.
'Looking at the painting today, I see clearly how much it combines memories of those experiences; my brother's paintings, his love for Redon's work, and the Redon paintings and pastels I remember seeing for the first time that day,' Bowes said.
The Sotheby's auction, which aims to raise over $1 million for New York's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Centre, will begin accepting bids from 24 September with lots exhibited at Sotheby's New York gallery from 26 September.
Bowes said he was happy to support a very good cause. —[O]