David Bowie is many things to many people, and probably also to himself. He's well read, worldly, and a patron of the arts. He even operated his own art publishing house called 21. In 1998 21 published an acclaimed title called Nat Tate; An American Artist 1928-1960. It was the first major work to celebrate and investigate the life and works of Tate.
Tate was followed by heartbreak his entire life, beginning with his father abandoning his family, then losing his mother early in his childhood, and as time went on he became consumed by alcoholism and mental illness. Towards the end of his life he became dissatisfied with his work, and he worked to buy back all the paintings he had sold so he could improve them. He eventually destroyed 99% of them, and in 1960 he ended his life by jumping off the Staten Island Bridge. His body was never found.
Portrait of K
On April 1st, 1998, the publisher threw a huge release party at Jeff Koons' art studio, and anyone who was anyone attended. Bowie read from the book, and noted English art critic David Lister wandered through the crowd discussing Tate's work. Attendees shared their knowledge of the artists' work and recalled seeing it in galleries. It was quite the shindig. A second release party was to be held a week later in London, but then it all fell apart.
It was revealed that Nat Tate never existed.
The whole thing was an elaborate hoax concocted by Bowie, author William Boyd, Gore Vidal, and Picasso biographer John Richardson. They wanted to see what it would take to create something real out of nothing. With the cooperation of the editor of Modern Painter, they developed the life of Nat Turner, embellishing it with vintage photos and recollections from his "compatriots" (Gore Vidal: "He was essentially a dignified drunk. Unlike most American painters, he was unverbal.") The final piece was to create a publication that celebrated Tate's work and presented it as genuine.
The story was blown when Lister, the critic from the party, just couldn't keep his big mouth shut, and had to run to the press with it. For a brief period the story was major news, and people discussed human gullibility and how we're drawn into stories like Tate's. Ultimately, Tate became real when one of "his paintings" sold at an auction for several thousand pounds.
Anyway, the above image is what I look like when I'm super excited to play a new David Bowie album for you guys, but I'm trying to stay cool. I'm giving it all away, clearly. Tomorrow morning we're going to be playing Blackstar, the new Bowie album, in its entirety. Tune in at seven a.m. CST for an earful of genius that's gonna knock your socks off.
This aint no hoax.