The George Michael Collection sells for more than £11 million — including £9,264,000 in a memorable Evening Auction at Christie’s in London — with proceeds going to extend the singer’s extraordinary philanthropic legacy
After a world tour that saw highlights exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and a special multi-media exhibition in London that celebrated George Michael’s life, his music and the art he lived with, standout pieces from the singer’s collection sold for £9,264,000 in a dedicated evening sale at Christie’s King Street headquarters.
Bidders from 27 countries across five continents were registered in the Evening Auction, reflecting the global appeal of George Michael and the Young British Artists he collected. The online sale of works from The George Michael Collection, which closed on Friday 15 March, was just as successful, totalling an incredible £2,045,375.
The money raised from the sale of The George Michael Collection will extend the philanthropic legacy he built so generously and so privately during his lifetime.
The collection spoke volumes about George Michael, a man who touched millions with his music, his honesty, and his kindness. This was partly due to the autobiographical nature of so many of the works within it, but also because it revealed the extent to which he had supported his fellow British artists.
For the thousands of fans who flocked to the London exhibition, there was an added dimension: a precious opportunity for communion with their departed hero.
Watch the evening auction in full
The energy was palpable in a packed saleroom at King Street, and among the many bidding online, on the phones and via a live link from Christie’s New York saleroom. The competitive bidding and the fact that every single lot sold were a tribute to both George Michael’s eye for contemporary art and the depth of feeling for an artist whose songbook of classic tracks defined an era.
The top prices on the night were achieved for works by artists who George Michael knew and collected in depth, or for pieces that had particular resonance with the star who sold over 120 million records in a glittering 35-year career.
The sale was led by two iconic Damien Hirst formaldehyde works — The Incomplete Truth, which George Michael acquired in 2007, sold for £911,250 (including buyer’s premium), while Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain, the artist’s powerful re-staging of the image of the Christian martyr and gay icon, realised £875,250. Hirst’s The Immaculate Heart Sacred, executed in 2008, cruised past its high estimate before selling for £323,250.
Cecily Brown’s Untitled inspired multiple bids before being won at £791,250, while Bridget Riley’s Songbird (1982), the first major work George Michael acquired for the collection, realised the same price after another prolonged battle.
Of all the artists in the collection, Tracey Emin was perhaps the one who was closest to George Michael. He collected and cherished her work, owning standout pieces such as Hurricane, a 2007 acrylic on canvas, which realised £431,250 against a high estimate of £180,000 — a new auction record for the artist by medium; George Loves Kenny, the unique neon Emin created after travelling with the singer on tour, which drew a huge round of applause when it sold for £347,250; and Drunk to the Bottom of My Soul, an appliqué blanket from 2002, which was bought for £275,000.
In the build-up to the sale, Michael Craig-Martin, who taught many of the leading lights of the YBA generation at Goldsmiths, spoke about his relationship with George Michael and their discussions about ‘the problem of sustained creativity’.
Three large-scale Craig-Martin works all exceeded their high estimates. Untitled (SEX), Untitled (GOD) and Handcuffs all speak to the episode in 1998 when George Michael succeeded in turning one of his lowest moments into a personal triumph through a combination of humour, defiance and great music. The works sold for £125,000, £40,000 and £112,500 respectively, while the artist’s Commissioned Portrait Untitled (George), a totemic work in the collection, did even better by reaching £175,000 in the online sale.
World auction records were set in the live sale for Jim Lambie, whose Careless Whisper was a favourite with the crowds at the pre-sale exhibition and produced a flurry of bidding to make £175,000; for Angus Fairhurst, one of the original YBAs, whose bronze gorilla, titled A Couple of Differences Between Thinking and Feeling II, achieved £118,750 (more than double its high estimate); for Harland Miller’s Incurable Romantic Seeks Filthy Dirty Whore, which went for £237,500 after a spirited contest in the saleroom; and for James White with Relationships II, which sold for £22,500.
Harland Miller claimed a further distinction when his Death, What’s in it for Me? sold for £212,500 online, the top price in the sale.
In the live auction there were strong results, too, for works by Tim Noble & Sue Webster, led by Excessive Sensual Indulgence, one of many works with a title that would have looked at home among the tracks on a George Michael album, which realised £237,500.
It was fitting, perhaps, that the Evening Auction closed with the poignant And if I don’t meet you no more…, a neon by Cerith Wyn Evans, which comfortably set a new artist record by medium when it sold for £68,750. The sentiment expressed in the work has been shared by many who have come to Christie’s over recent weeks to celebrate the life, the music and the generosity of George Michael.