Artists Retrospective

‘A Tenacious Contributor of Ideas’: David Bowie on His Publishing Company, in 1998

David Bowie photographed in Chicago in 2002. ADAM BIELAWKSI/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

David Bowie photographed in Chicago in 2002.


David Bowie, the beloved musician who died yesterday at age 69, is best known for his unabashedly weird pop music, but a little-known piece of the British singer’s biography is that he also tried his hand at art-book publishing. (Another oft-forgotten fact: Bowie was an avid art collector—he made several appearances on the ARTnews 200 Top Collectors list.) In 1998, along with Modern Painters editor Karen Wright, Bowie launched ‘21,’ an independent art-book company. From the May 1998 issue of ARTnews, here is Bowie discussing ‘21’ and why he felt that there needed to be more freedom for small publishers. —Alex Greenberger

“Bowie Books the Millennium”
By Barbara A. MacAdam

Pop singer, artist, writer, collector, and now publisher David Bowie was talking recently about ‘21,’ his new publishing company, a venture undertaken with Karen Wright, editor of the British magazine Modern Painters. Speaking about other books that address British art, he said, “Everything was either art at an academic level or so dense with art-talk that it excluded 90 percent of the reading market. We thought it might be a good thing to go at least halfway to changing that. I say halfway because some of us are maybe more populist than others.”

As to why he would rather be involved in a small, independent company than a major one, he says, “The great freedom within a small indie company like ourselves is that we get the last word on how something is presented and and which books we publish. I would only be a tenacious contributor of ideas at a big house. As long as we break even at year’s end, I think we’ll be happy.”

And why call the venture ‘21′? “The name was a quick take on the awareness of the imminent next century,” Bowie explains.

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