For a singer who preferred fingerless leather gloves, a white-glove sale might be off brand. But the collection of the late singer-songwriter George Michael, an icon of pop in the 1980s and ‘90s, was 100 percent sold at Christie’s London on Thursday evening.
The 60-lot sale, which prominently featured work by Young British Artists, achieved a hefty £9.3 million ($12.3 million) beating its pre-sale high estimate of £9 million ($11.9 million). (Final prices include the buyer’s premium; hammer prices and pre-sale estimates do not.)
The celebrity auction is the first public project related to the star since his death on Christmas Day three years ago at age 53. Ahead of the sale, Christie’s was buzzing; celebrities—including Andrew Ridgeley, the other half of Wham!, and the Welsh fashion designer Julien Macdonald—milled around over the low hum of Michael’s greatest hits.
Five works carried third-party guarantees: three Damien Hirsts, one Darren Almond, and one Adam McEwen. (The latter, titled sold £10,000 under its low estimate for £20,000 [$26,509], presumably to the guarantor.) One lot was withdrawn ahead of the sale.
George Michael kept quiet about his collecting during his lifetime, as he did about many aspects of his life, including his generous philanthropy. After his death, it came out that he had donated millions to charity, including gifting the royalties from his hit Jesus to a Child to Childline. Fittingly, the proceeds from the auction are also going to benefit causes he supported during his life, such as the fight against AIDS and children’s counseling.
The star began collecting in the ’90s after meeting some of the YBAs, who exploded onto the British scene much like rockstar himself. He was encouraged by his then-partner Kenny Goss, a former art dealer from Texas. During the peak of his buying, between 2006 and 2009, he built a heaving collection prominently featuring the likes of Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, and Marc Quinn. Many of the works, purchased from galleries or directly from the artists themselves, had never been to auction before.
Speaking ahead of the sale about Michael’s taste in art, Goss—who co-founded the Goss-Michael Foundation in Dallas, which owns the collection—said that the singer strongly believed that “art should be for everyone.” This conviction was a big part of why Michael related to the YBAs, who challenged the art-world status quo.
He was particularly fond of Emin, with whom he shares Cypriot roots; there were nine works by the artist in the sale. Although she told the Times she was “sad about the auction,” her work performed well. The most exciting lot—and the one with the biggest reaction—was the soft pink and pale blue neon work George Loves Kenny. The unique piece was commissioned by Michael in 2007. After an around eight-and-a-half-minute stretch of intense bidding, it hammered at £280,000 ($370,900), more than quadruple its high pre-sale estimate of £60,000, to whoops and applause. (Who knew there were so many Georges and Kennys out there keen on Tracey Emin?)
Emin’s other works also sold well, with all but one exceeding their high estimate. Her 2007 acrylic on canvas Hurricane (2007) went for £431,250 ($571,593), while her modified blanker, hammered at £275,000 ($364,218) to a bidder in the room.
Things didn’t go so well for Damien Hirst, whose market has taken a downturn since its heyday. Of the six Hirst works on the block, only one exceeded its high estimate: The Immaculate Heart?Sacred (2008). The vitrine—complete with a bull’s heart and dove’s wings suspended in formaldehyde—exceeded its estimate of £120,000 to £180,000 to sell for £323,250 ($428,119) to a bidder in the room. But accounting for inflation, the price certainly did not exceed the £313,250 Michael paid for it in 2008 at Hirst’s legendary Beautiful Inside My Head Forever auction.
The question on everyone’s minds, as with most celebrity auctions, is what the “George Michael premium” would be. Several works on offer broke artist records, including Harland Miller’s fictional book cover Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore (2007), which hammered at £237,500 ($314,527). Miller’s previous auction record was £75,000, achieved at Sotheby’s in 2015 for the 2013 work I am the one i’ve been waiting for.
Meanwhile, Jim Lambie’s portrait of Michael, Careless , sparked a flurry of bids, landing at £175,000 ($231,757), exceeding its high estimate of £18,000 by nearly 1,000 percent. The previous record for the artist was £91,250, achieved in 2013 at Phillips. Angus Fairhurst’s one-armed gorilla sculpture, A Couple of Difference Between Thinking and Feeling II, which apparently used to live in the singer’s garden, fetched £95,000 ($125,811), obliterating the artist’s previous auction record of £26,290 and solidifying the power of the branded celebrity auction.
Some lower-priced lots are concurrently being auctioned online until tomorrow. As of this writing, all but one of the online lots has secured a bidder.