At face value, it's worth an unassuming £800-£1,200; however, it will no doubt fetch much much more as it belonged to the late great David Bowie.
The excitement around the sale of his collections of 20th-century artworks and design objects has been building ever since the Sotheby’s exhibition went on its own world tour this summer, to LA, New York, Hong Kong and now back to London (1-10 November).
Naturally the Bowie family will be keeping their favourites, but going under the hammer are his artistic collaborations with Damien Hirst, and works by Duchamp, Auerbach, Caulfield and Gilbert & George among many others.
Air Power by Jean-Michel Basquiet has far and away the highest estimate – £2.5 to £3.5m – but the auction of his collection of furniture and decorative objects, principally by Memphis, has a Squash ashtray listed for as little as £60-80 (although even eBay is asking £142 plus £35 postage for a mint-condition one, so expect a reality check on the day).
“We always price them at the fair market value, what the pieces are selling for on the secondary market today,” says Adam Trunoske, a specialist in Sotheby’s design department. “We never include an effect for what provenance will have, and provenance is key.”
The auction, Bowie/Collector Part III Design: Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group, comprises 100 lots. Ettore Sottsass was a renowed Italian designer when he co-founded the Memphis Group of Milan in 1981, bringing together young talent and boundless energy.
Their philosophy, subsequently called postmodern although they did not pigeonhole themselves as such at the time, was to break out of the rules of the modern and inject playful, colourful, decorative elements to furniture and home decor. They were an instant sensation, snapped up by collectors and galleries, although the design intention had been anything but esoteric. Karl Lagerfeld was a fan, selling his Memphis collection through Sotheby’s in 1991.
The worldwide attention and buzz around the sale is obviously a coup for Sotheby’s, which lost its global head of contemporary art in a high-profile resignation earlier this year.
Bidding is simple - you register online for an account. “We always advise people to place an absentee bid,” Trunoske says, “which avoids any technical glitches on the day. You phone our bids department and tell them the maximum that you are willing to bid on a piece, then should you wish to bid online you can do that as well.”
Should you miss out on the Squash ashtray, the good news is that the original designs are still in production: a brand new one costs 168 euros (memphis-milano.com). Hunky Dory.
Bowie/Collector exhibition is at Sotheby’s New Bond Street, from 1-10 November, with the live auction Part III on Friday 11 November 11 at 4pm, visit sothebys.com